C-1IO.NIIC CVNINARBS USE AMOA: 1 W0P -I-T N(,- CLASS MEY iN SAN- JOSE, CCSTA RtCA
WILLIAVM RAY TRUE, JR.
A DISSERTATbO>J PRZSFNVI liD N) E T CPUATF CGOUI L
OF THi. UI VIT> Of F FLO R i D
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT ()T- ?H' 1 QUI'EMl'NTS FOR THE
DEGREE 011 !L)CC7-"j OR iILSC!
UNIVERSITY 01" ~L3R i.
William Ray True, Jr.
TO MY WIFE, JOAN
As the culmination of an endeavor nearly three years in dura-
tion, this dissertation would not be complete without mention of the
persons who assisted the writer. Gratitude must first be expressed
to the many informants who were patient and helpful with my demands
upon them. I recognize also a profound debt to my committee chairman,
Dr. Paul L. Doughty, and to Dr. William E. Carter for personal involve-
ment in my career which far surpassed their professional obligations.
Dr. Elizabeth Eddy has also provided important counsel throughout, for
which I am very grateful.
Ms. Polly Doughty and Ms. Bertha Carter have extended many
personal kindnesses. Dr. Michael Chiapetta of Indiana University pro-
vided me with the opportunity to study anthropology and health early
in my graduate career. My field colleagues, Bryan Page and Dina
Krauskopf, contributed to my thinking. Ms. Vivian Nolan and Ms. Lydia
Deakin provided assistance while I was out of the United States. I
acknowledge a personal debt to the late Raymond James Sontag, professor
of history at the University of California.
Most importantly, I express my appreciation for the contribution
of my wife, Dr. Joan Hardy True, who was my Maxwell Perkins and
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS . . . .
PREFACE . . . .
ABSTRACT . . . .
CHAPTER I. DRUG USE AND SOCIAL STRUCTURE . .
CHAPTER II. THE SETTING . . .
CHAPTER III. THE SUBJECTS AS CHILDREN: FAMILY, STREET, AND
SCHOOL . . .
CHAPTER IV. ADULT SOCIAL WORLD: FAMILY, WORK, AND PEERS .
CHAPTER V. CANNABIS USE IN COSTA RICA: SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
REFERENCES . . . .
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . .
The research reported here was performed in San Jose, Costa Rica,
between July, 1973, and August, 1975, as part of research contract
No. N01-NH3-0233[ND],sponsored by the National Institutes of Drug
Abuse (N.I.D.A.),to investigate the effects of chronic cannabis use.
The contract called for broad transdisciplinary participation in-
cluding detailed medical studies, psychological test batteries, and
long-term anthropological studies of a subject population of 240 male
cannabis users and non-users and a matched subsample of 41 working-
class users and 41 working-class non-users. The purpose of the
study was "to obtain in-depth material on the sociocultural context of
long-term marihuana use, the effects of such use on interpersonal
relations, job performance, motivation, aspirations, and career
development, and possible effects of such use on the human organism,
using for this latter purpose a complex battery of medical and neuro-
psychological tests" (Carter et al., 1973, p. 1).
The task was the identification and analysis of the sociocultural
context of 41 male, working-class consumers of marihuana and 41 male,
working-class non-consumers, ranging in age from 18 to 50, residing
in the metropolitan area of San Jos6, Costa Rica. The need for this
total perspective was pointed our by Rubin and Comitas (n.d.):
"[F]ew studies have examined the total environment of the marihuana
smoker, i.e., the study of thc subject in his society" (p. 3).
During the first year of our study, emphasis was placed on obtain-
ing an original sample of 240 subjects from which the final matched
sample of 41 users and 41 non-users were to be selected. Eighty-four
of the original 240 were users and 156 were non-users. The reason for
having more than twice as many non-users as users was to give the re-
searchers considerable latitude in matching the control group with the
user group. As elaborated in the following chapters, the network
approach was the key vehicle for obtaining this sample.
The process of matching the final sample began after 11 months
of fieldwork and lasted about two months. The 41 users were matched
with their controls on a one-to-one basis using the following criteria:
1. Age: A bracket of 4 years difference was defined as the
acceptable tolerance between users and non-users. The
majority of the matches were within 2 years.
2. Marital status: Stable free union and stable marriage were
equated. Serial involvement with women was distinguished
from those with little experience. Marital status changed
with some of the subjects as they were being matched for the
criteria. Finally, flexibility had to be allowed for match-
ing this criteria.
3. Education: Formal education was defined as none, primary
incomplete, primary complete, secondary incomplete, and
secondary complete. The matching took into account institu-
tional socialization such as time in the reformatory or semi-
nary. Subjects were matched within one "step" of their match.
Thus a consumer with primary incomplete of 4 years could,
for example, be matched with a control with all 6 years of
4. Occupation: It was not necessary to demand the identical
job in the match. All artesan crafts, such as construction,
shoemaking, tailoring, and the like were matched interchangeably.
This seemed reasonable because in the life histories subjects
described how they knew several of these trades and orbited
among them depending on the market for services. Thus the
matching was done within the broad occupational categories of
the national census.
5. Alcohol consumption: A question sequence modified from an
instrument of the Costa Rican Institute for Studies on
Alcoholism was used, which scaled alcohol consumption on a
scale of 0 to 17 points. Matches were accepted within 4 points
of each other; moreover, those whose consumption was at the
top of the scale were eliminated.
6. Tobacco consumption: The number of pack years the subject
smoked was determined and the control was matched within
4 pack years. (Time smoked X average consumption equaled
pack years. Ten years of use X two packs a day equaled 20
The analytical use of social networks as method and theory
enabled us to cope with the complex, discontinuous urban environment
of San Jose. Through repeated contact with key individuals whose
personal networks were extensive, we were able to gain access to in-
formal relational groupings from which we selected our sample. More-
over, our incorporation into these social networks enabled us to
obtain in-depth data on the dynamics of working-class life in San Jos6.
Life histories of the finally selected sample provided the
principal source of sociocultural data. Through the life-history
interviews, we were able to get data on the principal relational group-
ings. The usefulness of this approach was underscored by Pelto (1970):
"The richness and personalized nature of life histories afford a
vividness and integration of cultural information that are of gleat
value for understanding particular life ways" (pp. 99). As he pointed
out, life histories provide data useful for "examining the patterning
of general values, foci of cultural interests, and perceptions of social
and natural relationships ." (p. 9C).
These interviews and those conducted with members of the sub-
jects' families and with their friends provided the bulk of our data.
Participant observation was another fieldwork technique; however, due
to the number of informants and the diffuseness of the city, this
technique was used less extensively than interviewing for data gather-
We began our research with general questionnaire insturments, and,
using insights generated by these instruments, we developed an inter-
view guide to be employed for the collection of life histories from
the final sample of 82 subjects. Approaching each subject after rap-
port had been developed, we conducted the interviews in an open-ended
fashion, using the Rogerian reflective technique to elicit data. This
technique encourages the respondent to elaborate on his ideas as much
as he desires.
We generally conducted the interviews in several sittings. For
the most part, it took us four to eight hours to cover the numerous
topics on the interview guide. Although the same interview guide was
used for all subjects, the information was not confined to the limits
of a page space or closed questions. An accurate recording of the rich-
ness and depth of the interviews was made possible through the use of
a tape recorder.
One limitation of the study was that it had to rely on retro-
spective recall of childhood events, early social relationships, and
experiences. To minimize this and other threats to internal validity,
we took the following steps: (1) the subjects were guaranteed anony-
mity and confidentiality to put aside their personal concerns and
anxiety; (2) we became well acquainted with the subjects and developed
rapport with th-m so that they would engage in open and honest communi-
cation; (3) we sought external collaboration by speaking with others
familiar with the subjects and their background; and (4) we checked
the internal consistency of the irnformarion provided by a subject by
seeking the same information in several ways so that some estimate of
internal consistency could be judged.
Because of the close rapport which we had established with sub-
jects, we were able to collect rich and copious life histories. In
order to analyze these data, we developed procedures for information
retrieval. All materials were typed verbatim on 5 X 8 inch Burroughs
Y-9 unisort cards which were coded according to a modified version of
the Human Relations Area File Outline of Cultural Materials (Murdock
et al., 1967). This code permitted the division of the data into
approximately 700 topical categories which could be punched on the
unisort cards. By use of these categories, 14,000 typed cards were
coded, thereby making the data retrievable according to whatever combina-
tion or sequence of topics was desired.
Once the coding procedure was completed, special scoring sheets
were prepared for each of the interviews. On the basis of the inter-
view guide, 286 variables were selected covering an array of 1,500
possible responses for each of the life histories. During the scoring
process, we recounted and reinterviewed subjects in cases where data
appeared confusing or were missing. Once this was completed, the data
were analyzed by computer to indicate general profiles. Using these
computer analyses and the original data recorded on the unisort cards,
we analyzed the material for a final description of the sociocultural
context of the subjects. The general findings of this study are re-
ported elsewhere (Carter, et al., 1976).
As a large biomedical-social science research project on chronic
cannabis use, the research operations required the continual collabora-
tion of approximately 50 team members over the two and one-half years
of active project life. My functions in this endeavor were twofold:
as anthropological researcher, I helped gather field data upon which
the social analysis was drawn, and, as Costa Rican field coordinator,
I participated as administrator to insure that all field operations
were properly and completely carried out. In performing these re-
sponsibilities, I was supervised by the project directors, Drs. William
Carter, Paul Doughty, and Wilmer Coggins. Drs. Carter and Doughty
served not only as general supervisors but also as anthropological
Other members of the anthropology team were Bryan Page, Dina
Drauskopf, and Claudine Frankel. Mr. Page, a fellow graduate student
at the University of Florida, is also using the data collected for
his doctoral thesis.
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graudate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
CHRONIC CANNABIS USE AMONG WORKING-CLASS MEN IN SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA
William Ray True, Jr.
Chairman; Paul L. Doughty
Major Department: Anthropology
Cannabis use among working-class men in San Jose, Costa Rica,
was examined with focus on behavior characteristic of that stratum of
Costa Rican society and the functional, integral role of drug use for
some members of that class. The sociocultural context of drug use is
described, with special attention given to adult informal relational
groupings and their associated values. The analysis of the adult
social world is coupled with an examination of early life-history ex-
periences to illustrate two distinct patterns of socialization among
the subjects, one pattern generally associated with future users and
the other with non-users. These findings suggest that drug use or non-
use is correlated with fundamental social processes antedating the
onset of cannabis use.
The research reported was conducted in San Jose between July,
1973 and August, 1975, as part of a research contract sponsored by the
National Institute of Drug Abuse to investigate the effects of chronic
cannabis use. Life histories of the selected sample of 41 users and
41 non-users provided the principal source of sociocultural data.
The 41 users were matched with 41 controls on a one-to-one basis by
use of the criteria of age, marital status, education, occupation,
alcohol consumption, and tobacco consumption.
The dynamics of the subjects' families, work, and informal re-
lational groupings are emphasized to show the functional, integral
role of cannabis use in the lives of some working-class men. This
analysis illuminates the economic and social constraints on working-
class life, thus underscoring the stratified nature of Costa Rican
DRUG USE AND SOCIAL STRUCTURE
As students of the use of hallucinogens in primitive societies
have long understood, drug use takes its form and assumes its meanings
from the particular sociocultural context in which it occurs (Furst,
1972; Harner, 1973; Rubin and Comitas, 1975). Drug use, therefore,
must be studied as a part of culture. Its physiological and psycho-
logical effects must be examined with reference to the context which
provides the circumstances and the interpretations circumscribing the
drug-using experience. As Goode (1969) points out, drug use "cannot
be understood apart from the web of social relations in which it is
implicated" (p. 55).
The study of drug use reported here is, in effect, a study of
society, with special reference to the drug theme about which other
social phenomena were ordered when observed. The study presented here
examines cannabis use among working-class men in San Jos6, Costa Rica,
focusing on behavior characteristic of that stratum of Costa Rican
society and the integral role of drug use for some members of that
The study has two major concerns: first, to show that the use
of cannabis is an integral, functional part of the lives of some mem-
bers of San Jos6's working class, and, second, to demonstrate that this
analysis of drug use provides insight into Costa Rican society,
affording the opportunity to view the society's social structure from
the perspective of those occupying a low social position in that struc-
ture. Traditional, long-term use of cannabis was found to be clearly
a part of working-class life, and an examination of this behavior
revealed much about the working class in Costa Rica and its relation-
ship to the society of which it was a part. As elaborated in the
following chapters, this portrayal of working-class life underscores
the subordinate position of this class in Costa Rican society and the
highly stratified nature of that society.
Focusing on the functional, integral role of cannabis in the
lives of these working-class men yielded an understanding of their
values, customary behavior, and interaction patterns. In the de-
scription and analysis presented in the following chapters, special
attention is given to what Warner (1960) terms institutional member-
ship, or relations of real interconnectedness, emphasizing the family
and informal relational groupings. As illustrated by the research of
Warner (1941, 1960) and Warner and Srole (1945), this approach provides
an operational definition of class, emphasizing the behavioral, rela-
tional dimension of social structure.
The variant of Warner's approach used here incorporates aspects
of relational analysis advanced by Kimball and Pearsall (1954). The
discussion presented employs their scheme of analysis emphasizing the
functional interrelatedness of customary behavior, structure of inter-
action, and values among working-class men in San Jose and relating the
phenomenon of drug use to these conceptual components. The description
of these components (relational, customary, value) provides the frame-
work within which cannabis use may bc viewed and understood.
This study specifically examines the behavior of 41 cannabis
users and 41 non-users from San Jose's working class in order to
define the sociocultural context of drug use, with special attention
given to adult informal relational groupings and their associated
values and customary behavior (Chapter IV). The analysis of the
adult social world is coupled with an examination of early life-history
experiences to illustrate two distinct patterns of socialization
among the subjects, one pattern generally associated with the future
users and the other with the non-users (Chapter III). These findings
suggest that drug use or non-use is correlated with fundamental social
processes antedating the onset of cannabis use.
This analysis of working-class socialization views the process
as the replication of societal forms in terms of choices made within
a field of interpersonal relationships (Kimball and McClellan, 1966;
Moore, 1973; Partridge, 1974). Constraints and incentives stemming
from this field of interpersonal relationships canalize choice for each
generation of working-class youth. The process by which this canaliza-
tion of choice occurred for the working-class subjects in this study
becomes evident when early socialization experiences are examined,
suggesting that the decision to use cannabis is related to the nature
of interpersonal relationships of early socialization experiences.
This relational analysis of socialization and of the adult social
world focuses on interactional regularities and cultural behavior
characteristic of San Jos6's working class as related to the specific
urban environmental context. These three variables, social form,
patterned behavior, and environment, provide the basic elements of the
analysis of drug use and its role in San Jos6's working class. The
functional interdependence of these three variables are examined in
later chapters in order to show (1) that the way of life of members
of the working class must be described within the context of the
physical features of the urban environment where they work, reside, and
recreate; (2) that the working class may be defined in terms of its
characteristic patterns of interaction and customary behavior; and
(3) that the subjects as children were socialized into their status and
role through interpersonal relationships and experiences which de-
fined their membership in the working class and which are being re-
plicated for their own children. Cannabis use may be understood only
when these broader patterns of working-class social processes are
In order to provide a context for this relational analysis of
cannabis use, the theme of drugs in society is discussed in the
next section. This is followed by a general description of Costa
Rican society with special attention given to the prevailing social
and political ideology regarding social stratification.
Drugs in Society
The consumption of mind-altering drugs has long been part of man's
repertoire of behaviors. Indeed, a proclivity for ingesting items
from a wide range of available material is typical human behavior when
one considers that the four most popular drugs in h:-an experience
(i.e., alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and marihuana) represent only the most
popular modes of drug ingestion (Brecher, 1972).
As Furst (1973) comments about the new awareness of hallucino-
genic substances in the West, "what is new is not discovery of natural
substances that act powerfully on the mind, but their fascination for
Western man and the medical, legal, and social consequences" (p. xi).
For social scientists concerned with the phenomenon of drug use, this
fascination takes the form of increased available resources for con-
The role of drug research suggests a perspective and approach for
viewing the role of drug use in society. While the use of drugs has
long been a part of human behavior, the interest in and resources for
research on the effects of drug use have only recently increased. Re-
search projects, such as the one this study is based on, are focusing
scientific attention upon the phenomenon of drug use, not because the
evolution of social research and social theory now calls for it, but
because political pressures and controversy have swayed policy makers
to the point that the latter have recruited the scientific community
to participate in the controversy.
The reasons for this recent politicization of the issue of drug
use reveal something about the role of drugs in social life. The
political tensions and disturbances of the late 1960s and early 1970s
found young people expressing themselves on public issues in a way
that traditional power brokers found disturbing and threatening.
Through popular reporting and vivid media coverage the ethos of youth
culture was described, with particular attention given to the elabo-
rated use of drug substances not previously thought to be part of
mainstream American culture. Further, it soon became apparent that it
was the offspring of middle-and upper-class citizens who were visibly
participating in what was seen as excesses of various types. Penetra-
tion of the use of marihanna among those who traditionally would be
expected to provide future leadership of the nation stimulated interest
and alarm, leading to calls to determine just what the consequences of
such activity would be. A typical perception of marihuana effects is
seen in the United States Department of Defense brochure "Drug Abuse:
Game Without Winners" (1968):
Continuing research is being carried out to determine whether
chronic marijuana use may have detrimental effects on physical
health, including possible brain and genetic damage. Psychic
dependence and the drug's effects, however, may lead to extreme
lethargy, self-neglect, and preoccupation with use of marijuana
to a degree that precludes constructive activity.
One researcher has noted the subtle but ominous changes
among such marijuana users characterized by: decreased drive,
apathy, distractability, poor judgment, introversion, depersonal-
ization, diminished capacity to carry out complex plans or pre-
pare realistically for the future, magical thinking, a peculiar
fragmentation of thought, and progressive loss of insight.
The shock of finding solid middle-class youth involved in the con-
sumption of materials normally associated with society's marginal per-
sons is understandable when one examines the evolution of suppressive
attitudes and sanctions with regard to certain types of drug use for
most of the past century. About the turn of the century, legislation
was passed which sought to control the use of certain drugs. The
Chinese coolies working in the United States and other countries at-
tracted attention to the use of opium, which sLimulated the passage of
the first opium ordinance in San Francisco (Brecher, 1972, p. 42).
Later congressional action in 1883 and 1890 aimed to control the im-
portation of opium, a restriction directed against the immigrant impor-
tation of the drug from China.
The Harrison Narcotic Act in 1914 defined the use of certain
drugs, including the opiates, as criminal activity in order to control
international traffic in those substances. Brecher (1972, p. 49)
argued that the motivations for this legislation stemmed from alarm at
the growing British trade in opium rather than from health considera-
tions. The result was to redefine what had become for many a common
health-seeking behavior--using opiates--as criminal behavior. Thus,
the nineteenth-century miracle drug went underground, and official
policy became directed at enforcement procedures called for in the
Cannabis became the target of law-enforcement sanctions in 1937
after a vigorous campaign by Harry J. Anslinger, who was first the
Assistant Prohibition Commissioner and later the Director of the Federal
Bureau of Narcotics. He succeeded in convincing the public and Congress
that cannabis was a threat to public safety by using scare stories por-
traying marihuana users as craxed maniacs. The recent re-issuance
of the famous movie "Reefer Madness" as high camp entertainment serves
as a reminder of the kinds of deranged associations given the use of
cannabis in the 1930s. This portrayal of cannabis effects ignored even
what was known then, for the massive British India Hemp Drugs Commission
Report 1893-1894 (reprinted in 1969) and the Panama Canal Zone Military
Investigations of 1916-1929 (Siler et al., 1933) had reached consistent
findings about the essentially inoffensive character of marihuana use.
Both reports urged mild official reaction.
The campaign against marihuana was based upon the assumption
that particular behaviors could be attributed to the custom of smoking
marihuana and, contrary to evidence, suppressing drug use would elimi-
nate the offensive custom. Such attitudes ignored the reality that it
is the underlying scci:1l propj]es ,,,J]cli. FInd, their expression in
specific- behaviors, incluhdin, marihuana use, and not the specific be-
havior which is causing the problem.
Blum (1970) provides another example of how these associations
can be made with a drug, one which is now thoroughly "domesticated":
[I]n the Moslem Eastern Mediterranean region, seventeenth-
century rules strictly forbade the drinking of coffee. The
death penalty was provided for owning or even visiting a
coffee house. Behind this severity lay a threat unconnected
with an evaluation of caffeine, for the coffee house had be-
come a meeting place for leisured political malcontents who
were thought to be secretly hatching plots against established
political and religious authority. (p. 12)
Such claims of seditious thinking and suspicious behavior are also
reflected in the current marihuana controversy. The "problems" re-
ferred to in the discussion of marihuana and coffee are embedded in the
particular social processes of the critics, not the drug users.
Anthropologists, in studying human behavior, see behaviors as
part of normal processes, explicable within the general characteristics
of the society in which they appear. Thus, when looking at the history
of drug use, it is apparent that drug use has long been part of human
societies, particularly in groups traditionally of interest to anthro-
pologists. Furst (1972) has compiled some recent work which shows
some of the varieties of this usage. Among medical applications, one
finds the San Pedro cactus, or Trichocereus pachanoi, of coastal
mestizo farmers in Peru (Sharon, 1971); the morning glory seeds, or
Rivea corymbosa, in the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico (Schultes, 1972); and
the use of tobacco for such purposes among the Warao of Venezuela
(Wilbert, 1972) and the Tenetehara of Brazil (Wagley and Galvao, 1949).
The Soma of the ancient Aryans (Wasson, 1968, 1972) and the peyote
cactus, or Lophophora williamsii~among native American groups of the
Southwest and across the border into Mexico (LaBarre, 1938; Aberle,
1966) were particularly elaborated in religious practices. Drugs are
used for their powers of intercession in religious ritual as found
among the Tukano of Colombia with the yaje,or Banisteriopsis caapi
(Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1972), and among the Fang with Tabernanthe iboga,
or eboka (Fernandez, 1972).
LaBarre (1972) points out that a listing of drugs known to
New World natives would include from eighty to a hundred drugs; a
listing from the Old World would contain only about a half dozen, in-
cluding cannabis. The greater elaboration of the use of mind-altering
substances among New World peoples, La Barre claims, is not due to
different botanical characteristics of the two land masses, but rather
to the ubiquitous presence of shamanism in aboriginal hunting peoples
in the Americas. Thus, the repertoire of substances is itself a cul-
tural artifact, just as an understanding of the uses and meanings of
drug use can be drawn only from the perspective of social circumstances
of the particular culture.
Western culture generally follows a different line with regard
to states of altered consciousness. While such states are clearly part
of the cultural tradition, they are thought of as being induced by
mind-altering drugs (Partridge, 1974, pp. 7-9). The most famous mysti-
cal experiences of the saints, the visions of St. Theresa, St. Bernard,
and St. Francis; the levitations of Acquinas; and the hallucinations
of Joan of Arc are all seen as unaided by the ingestion of any sub-
Protective mechanisms for reaching altered states of conscious-
ness without drugs have figured prominently in Western life. Trance-
like states associated with various groups are elaborated vividly by
Mooney (1896) in his classic work on the Ghost-Dance religion. Draw-
ing parallels between this religion and the other groups' altered
states of consciousness, Mooney describes the maniacal religious danc-
ing in honor of St. John in fourteenth-century Germany, France, and
Holland; the prophetic trances, hypnotism, and miracle-working of
seventeenth-century Ranters, Quakers, and Fifth-Monarchy Men; the con-
vulsions and trance performances of the "French prophets" of eighteenth-
century England; the frenzied spasms characterizing the Kentucky re-
vival of 1800; the convulsive manifestations of the Shakers of New York;
and the frenzied religious activities of other groups (pp. 928-952).
Such phenomena, particularly as they have been incorporated in
religious traditions, have been studied by anthropologists and treated
as projective mechanisms constituting functional, integral aspects of
the sociocultural systems where they occur. Circumstances surrounding
the onset of the altered states of consciousness are viewed by this
discipline as normal behavior for those societies.
Few anthropologists, however, have studied the phenomena of
altered states of consciousness from the perspective of what Durkheim
(1947) called the profane,or secular, institutions of society (pp. 38-42).
The sacred realm consists of ritualized expressions of sacred beliefs
among specific social groups. Thus, the belief, the ritual, and the
grouping are the sacred, and all else is profane. The controversy de-
scribed here about the "problem mentality"' associated with marihuana
use exists in the secular domain of social life, and the research which
is reported here focused on the role of marihuana in the profane, or
The public position with regard to the placement of drug use in
this secular domain became fixed during the early part of this century,
with increasing suppression upon the use of some substances as use be-
came categorized as either licit or illicit (Brecher, 1972). The
former category includes many clearly recreational drugs such as coffee,
tobacco, and alcohol. It also includes a range of material medical which
have become a part of popular health culture in the United States. In
grocery and drug stores, display cases are full of medicines and treat-
ments for relieving ailments ranging from anxiety and stress to in-
somnia and constipation. This multitude of available drugs demonstrates
the profile of normal drug use for society in the United States, which,
according to some critical observers, has been capricious in defining
the use of other substances as illicit.
Few studies have been directed at placing the use of marihuana
within the perspective of a natural setting. As Carter et al. (1976,
pp. 9-10) point out in the final report for the Costa Rican project,
the Jamaican study (Rubin and Comitas, 1975) has been the only close
comparison to the Costa Rican project for its attention to matching the
study population and taking as a research focus drug use in vivo. As
abstracted in the Costa Rican report (Carter et ai., 1976), the research
situation with regard to cannabis use has been deficient. Principally,
research on the drug in the United States has been of a clinical or
laboratory nature, with the use of various physiological or psychologi-
cal tests occasionally supplemented by sociological questionnaires.
As summarized in the 1974 report by the National Institutes of Drug
Abuse, Marihuana and Health, the state of research is far from ideal.
Of the studies reported at the time of the Costa Rican report, few had
used control groups, and virtually all had gathered data from institu-
tionalized populations (e.g., universities, the armed services, prisons,
and hospitals)--not from the public at large in a natural, ongoing set-
ting (Carter et al., 1976, p. 10).
Concern about the role of cannabis in Costa Rica took much of the
same form that it did in the United States, as diffusion of American
drug-using patterns to secondary and college youth of Costa Rica's middle
and upper classes caused widespread concern among legislators and other
leaders. While Costa Rica has had a long tradition of cannibis use
among its working class, the matter only became an issue when it was
discovered that children in the middle and upper classes were using the
drug. As shown in the newspaper reports, the issue of cannabis was not
of concern as long as the lower-class members of society were the only
ones using it.
The reaction to drug use as a function of those who are associa-
ted with its use is part of a pattern of dcig policy formulation. The
use of particular drugs can function as a social marke-r for certain
groups. Thus, ganja smoking is associated wiith lower-class East Indians
and blacks in Jamaica (Rubin and Comitas, 1975); miarihuana smoking was
associated with black musicians in Ne': York (LaGuardia Commission, 1966);
andi A.J!car Indians are singled out for their use of coca. In Costa Rica
thi ;;rou- mr:!rking occurs with the working class. This is illustrated
in the following quotation from La Prensa Libre, a San Jos6 newspaper:
Until a few years ago, marihuana was considered a product
used only by persons living it. low class barrios, people without
much culture and generally of very few resources.
Nevertheless, over the years, with the invasion of new
"currents," of the hippie type, marihuana jumped the barrier
that society had imposed and now it is consumed permanently and,
eveYn I'ore seriously, increasingly, among young people of the
cream of society whether these be students or even profes-
sionals. (Cited in Carter et al., 1976, p. 40.)
Marihuana use was of no particular concern to policy makers and national
leaders as long as it was simply a practice of the lower class, but as
the use population appeared to shift, interest was immediately stimu-
lated. This -lintc f-r--reasrhe suggests the _ratiied nature of
Costa Ricaj society, a theme to be elaborated in the next section.
That this interpretation of drug-using behaviors in Costa Rica
should have a class bias should, of course, be of no surprise to those
familiar with Latin American societies. However, one finds a set of
beliefs associated with Costa Rica stressing its egalitarian nature and
democratic structure, *yhich would suggest that one would find less
polarizaticn there than in otner Latin American countries. According
to this ideology, this sr.ill Central American country represents a
flowering of dJcm3cracy, -,,pported ard directed by a large middle class,
deriving fro= ogalita-'jan colonial roots, and bolstered by extensive
public education offering to all a vehicle for social and economic
This popular image of Costa Rica is generally asserted by the
country's inhabitants and by outside observers (Busey, 1961; Biesanz
and Biesanz, 1944; Lundberg, 1968) and is advanced by Costa Rican
scholars (Barahona Jimenez, 1970; Rodriguez Vega, 1953; Gutierrez,
1963). This view, however, has been disputed by recent research,
especially by the intensive genealogical studies of Stone (1969, 1971,
1975) demonstrating the presence of an aristocratic endogamous elite
who have dominated Costa Rican social and political life since the
Stone's (1975) findings challenge two underpinnings of Costa
Rica's democratic, egalitarian image: first, the dominance of a large
middle class and, second, the social equality found during the colonial
period. Regarding the first, he acknowledges the presence of a middle
The middle class may be defined in the following manner: it
is constituted by those who do not have kinship ties with
[elite families], and whose standard of living and education
do not permit the placing of them in the lower class. .
The middle class would include also an important number of
functionaries, of doctors and of lawyers, but it is necessary
to clarify this assertion. Secretaries in the ministries and
clerks in stores cannot always be considered as part of the
middle class, because many are elite. The functionary, the
doctor or the lawyer of the middle class dresses well, lives
in the city in a comfortable house, and usually has a car.
His standard of living is at times higher than that of many
members of the upper class. (p. 200)
As the government expanded its service orientation after the revolu-
tion of 1948, ministry bureaucracies grew enormously, increasing
dramatically the number of white collar government functionaries
(Bell, 1971). With this proliferation of government bureaucracy,
the middle class has appeared to grow and become more visible.
Nevertheless, as Stone (1975) points out, this middle class has always
been subordinate to a small ruling class which "has constituted a
political elite since the Conquest ." (p. 23).
Gutierrez (1963) maintains that the middle class obtained con-
trol of Costa Rican politics in the beginning of the twentieth century,
thereby fostering social equality in Costa Rica. Yet Stone (1975)
shows that the major political figures of post-World War II Costa Rica
have been descendants of the same families which have dominated the
country's social and political life since the colonial period (pp. 125-
126). Thus he suggests that class lines have been firm ever since the
Pyle (1974), another challenger of Costa Rica's idealistic image,
further maintains not only that this middle class did not achieve polit-
ical dominance, but also that such a political ascent, even if it had
occurred, would not have promoted egalitarianism, since the so-called
middle class is a highly privileged group, socially and economically
superior to the vast majority of Costa Ricans:
This group obtains the important white collar, salaried
jobs; lives close to good schools for its children; and lives
in modest but comfortable homes with "American" luxuries. This
group, like the ruling elite, is able to maintain its privileged
position by virtue of the special access it has to wealth,
education, and power. (p. 1571
According to Pyle, this middle class did not originate from a class
of small landowners but stemmed front the less successful descendants
of the ruling elite (p. 148). These arguments would suggest that
middle-class members were recruited from above.
Like Stone, Pyle also counters the popular assertion that egali-
tarian historical roots account for Costa Rica's democratic tradition.
Advocates of the popular image claim that social equality character-
ized the early history of the country, particularly the colonial period
when Costa Rica suffered economically. As Stone (1975) notes, the
colonial period was indeed a time of poverty due to the failure of
cacao; yet the hidalgos of the ruling class still maintained more wealth,
power, privilege, and social status than other colonists (pp. 51-66).
This stratification has been reinforced by the rural, quasi-
plantation nature of the Costa Rican economy. Largely based on the
export of coffee, bananas, and sugar, the economy is labor-intensive,
requiring a large working force to do the manual labor needed for the
cultivation and harvesting of the crops.
Descendants of the hidalgos have continued to play a patron role
in this quasi-plantation economy and to dominate Costa Rica's politi-
cal and social history, as vividly pointed out by Stone (1975).
A genealogical analysis of the families of the first
conquistadores puts graphically manifest the existence of the
[upper] class and its political importance since the Conquest.
Therefore, from Conquistador Juan Vazquez de Coronado, for
example, have descended approximately 300 deputies [members of
the legislature] and 29 residents; from Antonio de Acosta
Arevalo, 140 deputies and 25 presidents, and there exist numer-
ous unions between descendants of both families. From only
three of these families have come 33 of the 44 presidents of
the Republic, and the degree of endogamy is so high that many of
them have ties of kinship i',th all three. In the same manner,
three quarters of the deputies come front one dozen of the
families studied. The fact that the owners of the coffee
estates also come from the sane ciass is shown by the fact that
a third of the first coffee-growing families descend from
Vazquez de Coronado and a third from Acosts Arevalo. (p. 40)
The continued presence of this ruling dynasty stems largely from mar-
riage strategies used to concentrate wealth and political power. With
the exception of marriages to prominent foreigners, Stone argues that
the Costa Rican elite concentrated power through marriage alliances,
particularly marriage of two members of one line with two members of
another line (e.g., two brothers of one family would marry two si.-
ters of another) (pp. 189-190).
As revealed by Stone's genealogical studies, this highly endo-
gamous, tightly controlled elite has been effective in maintaining
wealth, social standing, and political power from colonial times to
the present. In discussing Costa Rican society vis a vis its Latin
American neighbors, Stone (1975) concludes:
In Costa Rica, the importance of transmitting political
power from generation to generation makes manifest the ascrip-
tive and particularistic aspect of the society.* In this sense,
Costa Rican society does not differ essentially from Latin
American societies in general. (p. 201)
Stone challenges the widely held view in Costa Rica that educa-
tion within formally recognized institutions offers a vehicle for
social and economic mobility. Higher education, in particular, is
seen as providing credentials for high socioeconomic position and is
sought by many as an avenue for social mobility.
Yet, Pyle (1974) claims that the promise of formal education is
rarely fulfilled. He asserts that the upper class "controls educa-
tional institutions and establishes educational standards and require-
ments which are most easily fulfilled by themselves" (p. 127), thereby
restricting economic mobility by limiting educational opportunity,
particularly at the university level. The relative inaccessibility of
higher education for the non-elite serves to perpetuate social class
The offspring of the elite in Costa Rica have always had special
advantages in acquiring education, especially advanced education.
The effect has not been readily recognized; as Pyle notes, the "rela-
tively high literacy rate in Costa Rica masks the fact that higher
levels of education for remunerative positions in the society are
effectively restricted to a small few" (p. 191). This elitist fea-
ture of Costa Rican education has been similarly outlined by Goldrich
(1966) and Denton (1971).
In Stone's (1975) discussion of elitism of Costa Rica, he points
out that Costa Rican society is characterized by a "delicate balance
between elitism and egalitarianism" which is manifested in the limited
efficacy of education and training for economic mobility.
For example, the political structure has a civil service
which reflects universal criteria: to be named to a great many
administrative posts, it is necessary for the candidates to take
an exam. However, the system works so that, in spite of the
exams, family ties or political party are in reality the deter-
mining factors in the final selection of candidates. (p. 202)
The belief in education as a means of social and economic mobility,
nevertheless, is deeply embedded in the minds of most Costa Ricans.
As we observed in our subject population, many working-class people
make financial sacrifices to provide educational opportunities for
their children in hopes of social betterment. This is elaborated in
Chapter III,which focuses on the family of orientation of our subjects
and the dynamics of socialization characteristic of this working-
This overview of Costa Rican class structure suggests the con-
straints which operate upon the working class, a theme to be developed
later in this study. The belief in the historical reasons for a
democratic Costa Rican society were quoted at length by our working-
class subjects during interviews; so too was education seen as their
major "plan" for realizing mobility aspirations for their off-
An additional perspective on this controversy about the strati-
fication in Costa Rica may therefore be provided by a description and
analysis of how members of San Jos6's working class function within the
city, interact among themselves, and were socialized to their adult
roles. These themes are pursued in the following chapters.
Chapter II describes the urban environment of San Jos6 as it
affects the lives of the study's working-class subjects. The descrip-
tion begins with a discussion of the use of adult social networks to
gain entry into the working class, an approach stemming from a concep-
tualization of the city as a series of interdependent relational systems
characterized by interactional regularities, customary behavior, and
values. This brief discussion is followed by a description of the
city's physical features, historical development, and residential zones,
which provides background for a discussion of the working-class status
characteristics of the subject population.
Chapter III describes the subjects' early life-history experiences
in order to present a profile of the working-class family of orienta-
tion and to illustrate two distinct socialization patterns among the
subjects as working-class youth, one pattern generally associated with
users of cannabis and another pattern with non-users. The analysis
focuses on the subjects' relational systems of family, informal peer
groups, and education in order to demonstrate that cannabis use or
non-use is correlated with fundamental social processes antedating the
onset of use and that such use may be regarded as a normal behavioral
option for some in the working class.
Chapter IV focuses on the adult social world of the working-
class subjects. The dynamics of family, work, and informal relational
groupings are emphasized to show the functional, integral role of
cannabis use in the lives of some working-class men. This analysis
will illuminate the economic and social constraints on working-class
life, thus underscoring the stratified nature of Costa Rican society.
Chapter V presents a summary, conclusions, and a statement of
the need for further research.
Underlying the research approach used for this study is a con-
ceptualization of the city as a series of interdependent relational
subsystems (e.g., informal, family, economic, religious, political,
associational) existing in time and space and in a given environment.
As emphasized by Arensberg and Kimball (1965), community must be viewed
as process involving cultural behavior and interactional regularities
in an environmental context.
In this chapter, the urban environment of San Jose is described,
emphasizing its physical features and historical development in order
to define the city as the residential base and social and economic
world of our working-class subjects. This discussion begins with a
description of our entry into the social world of working-class San
Jos6 through adult social networks. While highlighting the scope of
these networks within the working-class, this description points out the
lack of social linkages with the middle class, suggesting the strati-
fied nature of Costa Rican society.
This general description of the urban environment includes an
elaboration of residential zones which provides background for the dis-
cussion of criteria used for establishing the working-class nature of
the subject population. In light of this environmental context, their
status characteristics are elaborated, with special attention given to
dwelling area within the city, housing type within the dwelling area,
and occupational type.
Entry Into Working-Class Social Networks
At the beginning of the project, we realized that the subjects
needed for the study would neither form a separate entity nor be con-
veniently located in one particular place. It was expected that re-
cruitment of the sample would be with people dispersed throughout the
The most urgent initial problem was how to establish contact with
users of an illegal drug residing in the metropolitan area of over
438,000 inhabitants. This search was hampered by the users' skills of
evasion which had become refined as pressure from the police had alerted
them to the dangers of conspicuous drug consumption and the risks of
careless social contacts with strangers who might be masking their
Early in the research, we discovered sites in working-class areas
where drug users and non-users met for social interchange. These
nodes of interaction included a park corner, a bar, a particular street
corner, and an athletic field. To gain entry into these social cir-
cles, we frequented these places, making ourselves visible, answering
questions, and chatting with persons who happened by. Gradually it
was understood that we were not INTERPOL officers and could be trusted.
Through these contacts, we discovered that the social world of
these working-class men was elaborate and extensive within the working-
class stratum. Drives to "run an errand" for a contact often turned
into hours-long treks over the metropolitan area as "business" was
conducted. In such tours, it became obvious that the subjects had wide-
ranging and often esoteric social networks which were not restricted to
geographical or residential boundaries, though clearly limited to the
Communication techniques within this social world were highly
sophisticated and effective, and our observations of the communication
system suggested that the most effective method for working with this
dispersed working-class population would be to gain entry into their
social networks. This approach facilitated our search for subjects.
By following the nets of contacts of particular subjects and by re-
maining at centers of interaction, we met a wide range of potential
subjects. We conservatively estimate that in the time that field re-
search was conducted we encountered at least 1,500 persons.
In the course of our research, we came to view the city as a
series of interdependent relational subsystems. It was seen as a field
upon which a complicated web of social networks was projected. This
perspective permitted us to obtain a working-class sample, represent-
ing a wide range of barrio and occupational categories characteristic
of that class. Subjects were contacted through their participation in
social networks into which we gained entry, thereby providing us with
a socially connected, geographically dispersed, economically active
Individuals with stable presence in key working-class interaction
nodes (i.e., bars, street corners, stories, barbershops, shoemaker
shops) became our links to various working-class networks. These
central figures were brokers for street news and points of reference
for others in the circle of acquaintances.
Once we had established rapport with these key individuals, they
facilitated our research by introducing us to men in their networks and
legitimizing our presence. In this way, we gained access to the social
networks of our working-class subjects, permitting the in vivo
study of drug use in the context of working-class social processes.
This approach revealed the adaptive urban behavior of working-
class men, particularly the personal formulation of their order and
routine which permitted them to cope through personal networks with
what would otherwise be an overwhelming complex of impersonal forces
and pressures. These men perceived the city in certain ways and de-
vised strategies to define it according to their needs and resources.
They found ways to buffer themselves from the full impact of the city's
density and heterogeneity by activating personal networks. They found
that their social environment could be defined through selection of
interactions. Reorganizing activities by the individuals actualized
an emergent structure of interpersonal relationships that allowed them
to cope with the diverse situations of urban life. The environmental
context of this working-class life is described below.
San Jose: An Overview
The San Jose metropolitan area is home to almost a half-million
residents, yet the visitor is impressed by the city's smallness. This
is because the important buildings and places of interest are concen-
trated on the low ridge upon which the central part of San Jos6 is
built. To the east and north loom the volcanoes Irazu, Barba, and
Poas, and to the south and west steep foothills jut up just beyond the
outer fingers of urbanization.
Immediately north and scuth of downtown San Jos6 are sloped
ravines and stream beds. They provide natural boundaries within the
metropolitan area between the central city and the surrounding ridges
where towns as old as San Jose have grown. Consequently, the low land
near the streams and ravines and the areas between the ridges have
provided space for residential neighborhoods as the urban population
expanded. The land between the central ridge and the surrounding
ridges has been filled in with housing and commercial development. In
vertical profile, the most marginal housing is toward the bottom of the
ravines. The most impoverished working-class members find housing
The most prominent ridges are found along the east-west axis of
the city and run through the length of the valley situated between the
volcanoes and the hills. Thus, there is still open land both east and
west of the metropolitan area. The government has stimulated growth
along this axis by building major highways and widening downtown
streets to facilitate traffic flow.
The contrast between the east-west axis and the north-south axis
is striking. Driving along the former, one is impressed with the in-
dustry, new housing, "big money" commercial vigor, new highways, new
construction, and the kind of chaos associated with rapid change.
Driving the north-south route takes one through the mixed industrial
and working-class residential neighborhoods, marginal ravine barrios,
commercial and industrial development along main arteries to the sub-
urbs, patched-up roads, and, ultimately,into coffee groves which ring
Downtown congestion graphically demonstrates the city's magnetic
attractive forces. Used school buses, purchased from the United
States, carry the population of San Jost and, in some instances, con-
tinue to display the designations of former use, such as "Monroe
County Unified School District." Most buses carry colorful names like
"Cassius Clay," "Batman," painted on them by individual owners. People
are drawn downtown for a multitude of reasons. A group of boys carry-
ing cleated shoes and a soccer ball are off to the huge sports field,
the sabana, to the west of the town for a game. Stout mothers, arm
in arm with young daughters, are doing family shopping. Old mendrop
off to the sidewalk cafes on the Central Park to drink coffee and watch
the passersby. Young men comment suggestively to women about their
most intimate attractions, while the latter stoically ignore the com-
Driving anywhere in the metropolitan area, one is impressed by
the number of bars in nearly every block. Some are rustic, unadorned
places selling the cheapest liquor, a cane liquor called guaro, without
the snacks or bocas, eaten in other more respectable establishments.
Like the buses, they sport a glossary of intriguing and humorous names:
The Office, The Fleet, Ring's, The Big Shot. Shots of liquor in the
former establishments are consumed undiluted. Their ragged clientele
know official Costa Rica only through the law officers who round them
up occasionally for drunken behavior.
One gathers a number of impressions while driving about the city.
Notable is the forest of television antennae which fill the sky in all
barrios regardless of economic status. Also noteworthy are the electric
wires overhead which assume baroque, spidery patterns of complexity as
rewiring and modification of the system by the government power monopoly
create generations of electrical fixtures. Such configurations illus-
trate that government utility services are available in the most mar-
Axle-breaking chuckholes catch the sight-seeing driver by sur-
prise, reminding one of the cartoon which appeared in a major news-
paper, La Naci6n. Two citizens were standing in the street looking at
a smoking crater. The first asked if this was a new volcano. The
second replied, "No, it's a bus making a stop at the bottom of this
Inferior street repair is not concentrated in the poorer parts
of town, as might be supposed. Some of the worst streets are in the
Los Yoses area, where many middle and upper-class residents dwell.
Cab drivers joke about how terrible streets are the penalty for voting
for Martin in the elections, the most conservative candidate, who was
Driving away from the center of town, passing through the low-
land residential zones, the small towns built on low ridges, and past
the commercial and residential construction occurring at the edge of
urban areas, one abruptly arrives in rural Costa Rica. Here the con-
trast is stark as one looks at the chiseled green hills and volcanic
structures which give an Alpine aspect to the country. Tiny villages
centered upon various agricultural products seem centuries removed
from the exhaust blanketed congestion of San Jose. Oxcarts are some-
times still used in the rural areas to haul sugarcane; barefoot farmers,
or camresinos, wearing canvas hats and carrying the omnipresent
machete, ride their horses long distances from their farms to arrive
at small marketing-center towns. After completing their business,
they tie up their steeds in front of local saloons and buy a drink at
the bar. In these remote rural towns, one sees the shadow of an
earlier Costa Rica which was agricultural in base, sparse in popula-
tion, and isolated from the world. From these rural roots, modern
San Jos6 has recently grown and matured.
Background for the Development of Urban Life
San Jos6 is located on the broad,rough intramountain valley,
commonly referred to as the central plateau at an altitude of 1,160
meters. Within 50 kilometers are the other three major cities of
Costa Rica. With this concentration of population and commercial
activity, the area completely dominates the rest of Costa Rica. It
was not always so. From its discovery by conquistador Juan de Cavallon
in 1561 until relatively recent times, the central plateau was a rustic
farming complex wtih only rudimentary village complexes. The Spanish
found neither gold nor willing Indians to exploit, and the area was a
colonial backwater which was utterly ignored. The nearly complete
absence of colonial buildings today reflects the lack of attention given
Costa Rica by the Viceroyalty in Guatemala.
According to the Costa Rican Academy of Geography and History,
San Jose was founded in 1737 (Academia de Geografia y Historia, 1952).
By the end of the eighteenth century, the city had grown only to
slightly under 5,000 inhabitants (Rodriguez and Teran, 1967, p. 27).
When independence from Spain was proclaimed in 1821, it took several
months for word to reach Costa Rica from Guatemala, and belated cele-
brations were held in the villages on the plateau.
During the nineteenth century the internal municipal organiza-
tion of San Jos6 took place, with appropriate administrative units
and utility services. The first census of the country in 1864 showed
that San Jos6 had grown to slightly less than 9,000 residents. During
the second half of the nineteenth century, the opening of the British
market for coffee (as demonstrated by the growing fleet of merchant
vessels of William Le Lachaer) symbolized the first significant parti-
cipation in world commerce on the part of Costa Rica (Stone, 1975,
pp. 82-87). This discovery of economic potential was associated with
the beginnings of the population growth which saw the central plateau
intensively urbanized in the San Jose region during the first half of
the twentieth century.
Urban Growth and the Evolution of Modern San Jose
Growth in the San Jos6 metropolitan area has been rapid and
dramatic, as noted in the following table:
The San Jose Metropolitan Area: 1927-1973
Year Costa Rica Metropolitan Area Percent of Costa Rica
1927 471,524 89,006 18.8
1950 800,736 179,736 22.4
1963 1,336,274 320,431 23.9
1973 1,820,000 436,862 24.0
Source: Ministerio dc Obras Publicas y Transportes, 1973, p. 5.
Population increase has resulted in extensive development of
residential areas near the center of the city. These areas grew in
two surges. The first took place during the first two decades of this
century, which saw the formation of the "southern barrios" from which
many of our working-class subjects were drawn. These neighborhoods
were no more than a few miles from the center of town and were largely
established in their present configurations by the early 1920s (Rod-
riquez and Teran, 1967, p. 74). It is reported that during the early
1920s the density of housing had greatly increased, with some residences
noticeably impoverished and the majority built contiguous with each
other ibidd., p. 76). A second surge is reported for the late 1930s
and 1940s when a second set of southern working-class barrios developed,
further out than the first, and a complex of neighborhoods east of
the center emerged. These recently formed zones also provided a number
of subjects for the study. Working-class men with jobs in the metro-
politan area live with their families in these areas.
Construction of housing since the 1950s has also been intense,
the most notable examples being the government housing authority
projects south and west of the city's center. The government has been
ambitious in providing housing and urban services to this new urban
population, and although residents' expectations about the quality of
services have exceeded actual accomplishment, vital services and trans-
portation arteries have been established. Of particular note is the
extensive system of bus routes which provides convenient, cheap trans-
portation to the entire urban population.
Although rapid population growth has dramatically changed the
physical configuration of the city, traditional patterns of anchoring
movements through the city to the heart of San Jose have not changed.
All bus routes either feed into the Central Park facing the cathedral
or to special stops within a few blocks. There is no inter-neighborhood
service, unless the individual's stop happens to be on the route back
to the center of town. Upon reaching the Central Park, a rider must
switch to the appropriate bus to go back out to his destination. This
centrality of interaction may be vividly witnessed at rush hour, when
seemingly endless charges of exhaust-belching buses roar along the edges
of the Central Park, unloading and loading at the same time, often in
no more than a minute or two. Police are present frantically blowing
whistles to keep the buses from waiting too long to load. Waiting for
the bus marked for their neighborhood, hundreds of passengers are
watching the approaching buses.
The Central Park and its adjacent streets are the most dramatic
of the interaction nodes we observed and are important for the concen-
tration of activities engaged in by San Jose residents to be found in
the immediate area. The simple confluence of activity through the
park and its perimeters practically guarantees meeting an acquaintance.
There are a number of individuals who are fixtures in the central area,
including several different groupings of shoeshine boys, a couple of
guards, traffic police, an evangelist, lottery salespersons, money
changers, newspaper vendors, indigent beggars and musicians, car washers
and self-appointed guardians, full-time loiterers, and, of course,
full-time employees of the bars, restaurants, and commercial
establishments. Many of these persons have assumed the role of infor-
mation broker, and often a message left with someone in the Central
Park will be delivered the same day. Ringed around the park are the
city's most popular movie theaters and several crowded all-night res-
taurants and bars. Within a couple of blocks, there are a number of
dance halls where contact with prostitutes can be made.
Without walking more than two blocks from the Central Park, one
can experience the extremes of San Jose life. The elegant Gran Hotel
Costa Rica and National Theater provide stark contrast to the cheap bars
and brothels only a few hundred yards away. This lack of discrete
specialization of the central area of the city is evidence of its role
in the lives of a wide range of San Jose residents and provides a point
of reference and identification in a city where so much change is
occurring away from the center in the residential and industrial areas.
The Physical Configuration of Residential Neighborhoods
While relatively densely populated, the city is small in area,
with a reduced-scale impression being preserved by a very rural system
of giving directions. A series of key landmarks such as a store, a
building, even a tree, are used as points of reference from which
directions are given in varas, which is technically 33 inches. A city
block is considered to be 100 varas long. One might live, for example,
from the famous fig tree 200 varas south and 50 varas east, or 25
varas south of the Primavera drugstore. Any taxi driver would know
where to go given only those directions.
Small scale is preserved not only in spatial distributions over
the city but in the vertical profile as well. The construction in
San Jose during the first half of this century was primarily one level,
with only some of the more elegant residences and commercial buildings
downtown having two or more floors. In a typical neighborhood, small
businesses abound, often occupying the front room of a residence.
There are small grocery stores (pulperfas), shoemakers, hardware out-
lets, furniture factories on a very small scale, bakeries, automobile
repair and body shops, tailors, and other small retail or service activi-
ties. Often the families of the owners of these establishments live in
back rooms or upstairs rooms in the building.
Interspersed among these businesses are narrow-fronted houses,
usually made of wood, which extend to the middle of the block. These
are narrow, but extremely long houses, often with an open patio at the
back for laundry and a small garden. Another kind of house of very
low quality is called pasajes. These houses develop along alleys extend-
ing to the center of blocks and are a series of one- and two-room
dwellings. These are rented by the most marginally employed working-
Costa Rican observers of city life have assigned much importance
to the particular physical configuration of housing. Rodriquez and
Terin (1967) assign social personality characteristics of independence
to the existence of individual dwellings with private entrances and
point out that residents may exercise their uniqueness through idio-
syncratic decorative arrangements oi house color.
Eugenio Rodriquez Vega (1953), in a work which is regarded by
Costa Rican social scientists as an early benchmark, observed about
his society: "It is very rare to find among us the case of neighboring
families who maintain close contact. When issues are reduced to formali-
ties, all goes along well" (p. 29). In interviews, we discovered that
propinquity in itself was rarely the basis for a relationship. Subjects
would express the desire to have their own house, with a private en-
trance in order "to live tranquilly." They reported: "Better not to
be involved with anyone." An independent self-contained house is a
perfect realization of this desire and aspect of social personality.
While this observation is true between working-class neighbors,
it is even more the case where upper-class housing is found in areas
where working-class areas are interspersed. Residential or spatial
propinquity in such neighborhoods is not correlated with social inter-
For the working classes, the possibility of realizing home owner-
ship is increasingly reduced as commercial encroachment on the residen-
tial neighborhoods near the center push property values and rents up.
Economic pressures have forced some of our subjects to double up in a
house to share rent. In an extreme case in a southern barrio, we found
four families living in a single home.
Recent changes in the skyline of San Jose through commercial con-
struction and expansion are radical when considered in the context of
San Jose's rural roots and extremely late development. The shock of
changes in the vertical profile of the city so impressed observers
Rodriquez and Terin (1967, p. 139) that they included a profile in
their book, demonstrating the vertical distortions to San Jose of the
construction of the Central Bank, the Gran Hotel Costa Rica, the Social
Security Administration Building, and the Supreme Court. These buildings
are all within a few blocks of the Central Park. Given the extensive
urbanization in the surrounding areas of San Jose, the conversion of
coffee farms into suburbs of the city, and the dramatic changes in the
center, it may be said that San Jose has been completely transformed in
the last quarter of a century. These changes are reflected in the face
of residential areas from which we drew our subject population and
which may be described in specific categories outlined below.
Typology of Residential Barrios
While the city is compact, facilitating easy mobility about it,
we noticed a wide range of residential neighborhoods in the metro-
politan area and found ourselves dealing with all but the most rich
and the most poor of these. Spanning a range of types therefore caused
us to see the necessity of dealing with the kind of residential origins
of the subjects as part of the description of their social and economic
The typology was derived from systematic visits of the neighbor-
hoods, where we looked at the kinds of housing and services which were
available, geographical position with regard to the center of town and
available transportation, and an evaluation of the present trend of the
area, as indicated by immediate past history, present construction or
modifications of the neighborhoods, and future plans for change as
suggested by road building, new services, housing or other interventions.
The rich texture of diverstiy within the metropolitan area is
striking, particularly the pattern of high contrast in residential type,
even in areas which are contiguous. The rapid growth of the metropolitan
area has caused the coffee groves which used to surround the city to be
consumed in urban expansion, thus changing the configuration of the city.
The typology begins with the residential areas which have remained in-
tact in the center of the city.
Central City Barrios
The central barrios form the commercial and residential heart of
the San Jose metropolitan area. Located only a few blocks from the
Central Park, they are the locus for a wide range of economic activity
and housing types. Historically, the central barrios were the first to
be developed as residential areas. The configuration of their streets
are shown on the earliest maps available for San Jos6 (Rodriquez and
Terin, 1967). Their development as a commercial center has caused much
of their residential space to be converted to economic uses. Conse-
quently there is high diversification in the ways the space is used in
this area. Old elite housing remains along with modest working-class
dwellings, the latter often being the site of businesses or shops as
well as residences.
Walking through these barrios, one frequently sees congested car,
bus, and truck traffic on narrow two-lane streets. Capricious double
parking clogs the traffic flow, causing a din of honking horns and
clouds of diesel and gasoline exhaust fumes. Bus routes must pass
through these barrios en route to peripheral areas.
Jammed right up against the narrow sidewalks are a plethora of
shops and businesses. Shoemakers and tailors provide personal services
along with barbershops and small soda shops which serve simple meals,
fruit drinks, and coffee. The range of repair facilities is impressive
and highly specialized. In a couple of blocks, one may recap a tire,
rebuild a battery, buy shoemaking supplies, order custom-made shoes,
have a quick drink, buy a lottery ticket, order a tombstone, bind a
book, visit a house of prostitution, eat a meal, and catch a bus to an
impressive array of destinations.
Central barrio space is distinctively used in diverse, contrast-
ing ways, providing not only a wide range of commercial services to the
residents of the rest of the city, but also most of the city's enter-
tainment. First-and second-run movie theaters, popular dance halls,
bars featuring shows combining vaudeville and topless dancing, restau-
rants, all-night cafes, and rooming houses which service prostitution
are all concentrated in the central barrio area. Although nighttime
activity shifts to different sections of the same blocks, the intensity
of interaction remains at almost as high a level during the nighttime
as during the daytime.
Officials of the police force are always present. Unarmed traf-
fic police (transitos) are visible in the area day and night. Black
and white Dodge radio-patrol cars tour the area. Raids are sporadic in
the bars of the area, with drug traffic, largely marihuana, being the
target of the generalized searches and interrogations. Numerous in-
ebriated men are picked up by the police and taken to the central peni-
tentiary where a detoxification clinic provides first aid. It is not
uncommon, however, to find comatose individuals on the sidewalks at
night and in the early morning.
Housing in the area is quite varied. Expensive apartments may
be rented in new two- to three-story structures which have been built
in the last few years. Old wooden houses as well as new and old business
buildings are found in the same block. One- and two-story wooden hous-
ing represents an older generation of residences for downtown city
dwellers. Many blocks of these structures, however, have been torn down
to build government office buildings and schools. Some lots have been
cleared and converted into lucrative parking lots. Space for a few
playgrounds has been preserved, including small plazas with well-used
fixtures and benches. A train station and its track provide a natural
boundary between the central barrios and the urban residential and small
business areas to the south.
Half of the central barrios included in the study take their names
from the parish churches. These tend to be stark structures, made of
concrete, wood and metal sheeting painted intriguing combinations of
blue, orange, yellow, and white. Artistically and architecturally they
descend from no apparent tradition of note. In one case a forbidding
barbed-wire fence surrounds the church grounds, barren except for a
small cornfield and the massive, stark, faded ocre-painted church
building. Ironically, while little interest or attention is lavished
on the church structures themselves, attendance at Mass is impressively
high--Sunday Masses are standing room only throughout the day.
The central barrios often blend into each other with no definite
boundaries. Often the residents themselves are uncertain about the
exact limits of their neighborhoods. Generally the boundary between
the central barrios and the stable residential neighborhoods contiguous
to the central areas is clear, though the outer fringes of the central
barrios and the adjacent section of the contiguous barrios are similar
in socio-economic and housing type.
Stable Residential Barrios--Contiguous to Central City
These residential neighborhoods are usually delineated from the
central city with such boundaries as railroad tracks, a stream or small
river, or a ravine. Several of the barrios in this category straddle
major thoroughfares and serve as conduits into the city. Others have
a more enclave aspect with no direct through traffic.
They are clearly working-class areas, with broad similarity in
housing types. Costa Rican professionals of the middle and upper
class would never conceive of residing in such areas.
These neighborhoods developed during a period ranging from the
1920s to the late 1940s and early 1950s. Typically these barrios have
open space interspersed through them, and the outer fringes of the
neighborhoods blend into open fields of coffee groves.
The mix of business and residence is striking, though not as
strongly developed as in the central barrios. Often, typical one-
story wooden housing is converted for commercial purposes. A common
pattern is for the owner to convert the front room of his home into a
business and continue to reside in the remainder. These spaces in the
home are typically used for shoemaking, barbershops, small vegetable
stands, or grocery stores.
The common house is wood, with a corrugated metal roof. Generally
these residences are well made, neatly painted with clean interiors
and decorated with a range of religious symbols, plastic flowers, and
assorted figures and ceramics. Some proud owners place special shiny
plaques giving the owner's name and occupation on their doors. These
denote the houses of successful artisans and tradesmen.
Government services are ubiquitous. All barrios regularly re-
ceive water, electricity, and garbage collection services. Because of
heavy traffic and lack of zealous maintenance, the roads in the barrios
are characterized by chuckholes and general roughness. This situation
provoked a mild demonstration in one of the barrios during July and
August of 1973, and since then, repairs have been made. Even in the
poorest areas of these barrios, teams of workers from the governmental
electrical utility may be regularly observed installing service and
While the barrios are residential in character, some are charac-
terized by light-industry penetration. For example, one barrio has a
vegetable oil plant with its attendant warehouses and machineshop, an
office-machine warehouse, a sausage plant, a clothing factory, and a
series of grain and grocery chain warehouses. Workers in these busi-
nesses may live in the barrio, but more likely they live elsewhere in
the city. This industrial presence is due to the fact that when large-
scale commercial construction began to move from the downtown San Jose
area in the early 1950s, land was available in these regions.
A resident of one of the barrios commented on the effects he
attributed to the growth of a stable industrial presence in the barrio:
Now the barrio is just a bit changed because now it has
a good road and it has more industry, you see? Factories and
all that, and a higher level of people is coming in. Before it
was just a slum with a bad road and was popular with people with
no resources, who lived in shanties. We are improving now,
bit by bit, because better people are coming in.
The neighborhoods typically have a parish church with an undevel-
oped park adjacent to it. In some of the barrios the church administers
small parochial schools. Protestant churches are in evidence, with at
least two or three in each barrio. Pairs of immaculately attired
Mormon missionaries also make regular sorties into the area.
Bus transportation is ubiquitous here as in the other neighbor-
hoods, with bus stops being main interaction sites. Private companies
obtain concessions from the government to operate lines to individual
neighborhoods. While residents complain about bus service and its
cost (about 41/2 U.S. cents), most buses appear on the quarter hour
and are very dependable.
Many of these barrios are built on the slopes of ravines, in the
bottom of which are small streams and rivers. These geographical land-
marks also mark boundaries between barrios and delineate them from the
central city itself. Beyond the low slopes of these barrios are the
outer ridges of the San Jose metropolitan area upon which the satellite
towns are built.
A notable mark of upward mobility in these barrios is the "over-
build house"--a modest wooden residence to which have been added extra
rooms, a porch, a garage, expensive wood facades, elaborate iron grating
over the windows, and metal or wood fencing. The investment in the
basic residence may be explained by the individual's attaining a level
of income or savings which permit either this investment or migration
to another, more prestigious middle-class area. The individual thus
demonstrates his higher status through conspicuous investment. Kin
and friendship circles are, therefore, not disrupted, but the fruits
of success are realized in a higher standard of living.
The stable residential barrios contiguous to the central city
provide relatively inexpensive housing with easy access to San Jos6
and the other barrios of the city. The poorest housing is located on
the steepest slopes and near the bottom of the ravines. These are
shacks pieced together from packing crates or wooden houses which
have usually fallen into disrepair. Steep alleys wind down nearly to
stream bottom, and houses are packed on both sides of the slopes. Even
these, however, have electricity, and TV aerials sprout from their
roofs. Another feature of the contiguous barrio is the presence of
open land both within the barrio and on its outer fringes. Space is
more abundant than in the central barrios. The government is gradually
converting some of these areas into athletic fields for barrio residents.
Soccer is the sport of the barrios and Costa Rica. Not surprisingly,
the young men in the barrios form athletic teams and clubs. Where these
are strong, one finds well-appointed athletic fields at local school
sites, some of which even have night lights.
Stable Residential Barrios--Government Housing Projects
A number of housing projects have been constructed by the govern-
ment in the last decade, largely for middle-class and lower-middle-class
residents. These are intended to be "planned" communities with a full
range of services. The houses are typically one-level concrete-block
structures built in a contiguous configuration, like row houses.
Government housing projects seem clearly the domain of the
Costa Rican middle class. Many of the residents work in the govern-
ment bureaucracy or business and are able to make the payments required.
Three of the final subjects, two users and one non-user dwelled in these
projects. One user was living with his wife's family, whose head of
household was a government functionary; the other was a draftsman, the
only middle-class professional in the study. The non-user was the
brother-in-law of the project's secretary, who lived in an extended-
A resident of one of these projects characterized his home as
quite middle class:
My barrio is for the middle class, and I find that we have
all we need and are better off than the majority of the barrios.
We are progressing--though we need more schools and more sports
fields--but we're making giant strides. I think it's better
than any other middle-class barrio.
Each home has a small plot of grass in front and a small utility
yard behind. Uniformity in neighborhood aspect is a goal, with pro-
ject regulations forbidding modification of the house appearance.
However, residents have succeeded in giving their houses unique ap-
pearances by adding new paint, fences, gardens, or a miscellany of
structural appendages. A large social security system clinic serves
the residents of the largest of the housing projects, while others
have easy access to ambulances or smaller clinics. This facility, as
well as several schools and the presence of the municipality's seat
in the alcaldia, demonstrate coordinated planning.
Most residential areas disturbed by the construction of these
projects are minimal in area, since the new homes fill coffee groves
and other open spaces, often creating a population concentration where
none existed before. Some projects may in time become satellite towns
if a community structure and tradition develop.
A second form of government housing project emerges when the
new housing is grafted onto an existing barrio. Though possessing
the same barrio name, the contrast between pre-existing lower-class
housing and government lower-middle-class housing is stark and under-
scores the difficulty faced by the Costa Rican government in approach-
ing the housing problem. Because of problems involved in financing
housing reform, the government has had to design projects which have
the best chance of recuperating their initial investment. Therefore,
projects aimed at financially solvent middle-class workers have been
favored over housing for the poor. Though the need for lower-class
housing is greater, such projects have generally been judged financially
insolvent. Housing needs for the poor have been assigned to the
Institute for Social Aid which has fewer funds available than the
Housing Institute which caters to those who can pay.
In design and execution, the projects are intended to be low
density, comfortable residential blocks. Recognition of the special
needs of children is represented by the pedestrian mall design for
for access to houses, where broad walkways and grass plots have been
constructed through the center of blocks with houses on each side. The
space thus opened up for communal use without traffic is ideal for
children's play. Such a design also promotes interaction of neighbors
by limiting access routes to a single walkway.
Much like the buildings they have replaced, some of these houses
have been converted for commercial purposes, largely into tailor, shoe-
making, or electrical repair shops. Such conversion, however, is much
rarer than in the contiguous residential areas (stable residential
There are grocery shops, meat shops, and small soda shops in
these projects, but the range of services available is much more
limited than in the areas nearer the center of the city. Therefore,
most residents depend upon bus transportation to carry them into town
to shop and run errands.
Residents in other lower-class barrios of the city mention
the projects as examples of desirable housing to which they them-
selves aspire. A resident of a transitional barrio commended on his
aspirations to live in one of the government projects.
But the poor don't have it--they have to go live far
away from the capital--a project is pretty and all, but one
like me can't live there--the houses are expensive--people
who work in offices, accountants, skilled people, they can
live there--I can't pay for one of those houses--only people
who have had the luck to study and have good jobs--it can't
be like that with me--because the working class have all the
Insofar as the demand for improved housing is insatiable,
the ability of the government to provide housing will always be
Before the mushrooming urbanization of San Jos6 many small
towns surrounded the capital and enjoyed a clear independent iden-
tity. Now, however, while preserving the physical form of provin-
cial towns, they have been largely encompassed by the political and
economic dominance of the nation's capital. At their nucleus they
are Spanish-Colonial-type grid towns centered on the plaza-church
complex in the center. Checkerboard city blocks extend out from the
central park and church, and the town's outer boundaries are dis-
tinct, marked by open land or definite geographical features.
Some of the satellite towns lie in the path of the general
extensive east-west axis of development which is extending the city
rapidly in these directions. One satellite town has already been
engulfed by the city, and others may lose their geographical integrity
in the next few years. The satellite towns are located on the high
points of land surrounding San Jose, and as the low areas between
them and the city fill in, the discrete identity of the towns will
become less apparent.
The satellite towns provide a wider range of entertainment and
economic resources than do contiguous residential barrios. The towns
have their own cinema, a wider range of restaurants and dance halls,
and more abundant athletic facilities. Many of these towns have
their own markets and diverse businesses, making it less imperative
to go to the central city to shop and run errands.
Several of the towns have well-known civic fiestas which draw
residents from the more central areas out to the towns to participate
in the festivities. Thus, the towns have their own ritual cycle and
community organization. While their contiguous neighborhoods are
relatively homogeneous in socioeconomic type, the satellite towns
are characterized by their socioeconomic stratification, with areas
for those at both the upper and lower ends of the social scale. The
range of social diversity and scale is thus present in the satellite
The presence of government institutions is obvious, particularly
around the town square. These include civil guard posts, government
clinics, large concrete schools, Red Cross facilities, and alcaldia,
or seats of municipal government. The satellite towns also have their
own cemeteries and branch offices of downtown banks, significant fea-
tures of semi-autonomy.
The plaza forms the center of town life. Though usually developed
to a minimal degree, the plazas form the site for youth games, school
parades and formations, and celebrations. The towns' most important
businesses are either on the square or within a block.
At least half of the satellite towns have been developed as resi-
dential areas for San Jose's professional class and, in some cases,
the established upper class. These new elegant areas are on the fringe
of the satellite towns, and the residents interact minimally with the
older residents. One of the satellite towns has achieved fame due to
fugitive millionaire Robert Vesco's purchase of a half-million dollar
compound, making him the town's most famous resident.
Peripheral Transitional Barrios
These barrios are presently in great flux. Initially they were
occupied by impoverished working-class families. Now they are sites
of extensive street paving, rapidly expanding commercial development,
destruction of old housing, new factories, and much open land. The
next five years will determine which of several possible development
paths will be taken by these barrios. Housing construction might be
arrested at present levels, with the areas developing primarily into
zones for light industry. Another possible development path might in-
volve the cessation of industrial development, with extensive housing
expansion converting the areas into new stable residential areas. A
third course might involve the mix of the two patterns, creating new
kinds of urban development not encompassed in this typology.
Contrasts of residence type are striking, with new upper-middle-
class residences being built in some of the transitional areas near
streets with strikingly lower-class housing. Land speculation, increas-
ing land values, and competition for the available space will surely
provoke tension between new residents and investors and the old resi-
The transitional areas are notable for the variation in the kinds
of activities found there. One famous barrio of this type has a number
of large, elegant "motels" especially constructed to serve as dis-
crete trysting places. Only a few yards away are located mundane
furniture factories, coffee groves, housing of various types, and a
small shopping complex. There is much open land in this area, however,
and the future of the neighborhood is uncertain.
Made of concrete,with simple designs, churches in the transi-
tional neighborhoods are typically new and are even less adorned than
the stark churches found throughout the central city. The absence of
the elaboration of barrio churches, plazas, or centralized sites for
interaction suggests the more transient, corporateless nature of these
barrios. Although land is available, particularly in the transitional
neighborhoods which are expanding into coffee groves, there is little
evidence of designation of space for communal uses. Perhaps the com-
peting commercial interests will not allow for such land use as would
be represented in common playgrounds or parks.
While several well-known dance halls and the motels previously
mentioned are centers of the metropolitan night life and entertainment,
the neighborhoods also have compestral aspects drawing city residents
who want to spend an afternoon in the "country" or picnic with the family
in the fast-shrinking coffee groves without leaving the metropolitan
While squatter settlements have been described as providing mas-
sive housing for many of Latin America's poor urban population, they
are relatively uncommon in the San Jose metropolitan area. The only
two squatter settlements from which we.drew subjects are only three
and ten years old. Each has several hundred residents who invaded
municipal land in a haphazard fashion. Since their establishment, they
have grown steadily, although the residents do not report the kind of
planning and coordinated strategies reported for the Lima barriadas
Both squatter settlements have line-village configurations,
with shanty housing built on both sides of a very narrow, essentially
impassable dirt street. While there are no provisions for walking or
riding in the rainy season with pavement, sidewalks, or the like, the
government has provided electricity and water to the older of the two
The older barrio has a small concrete chapel with a corrugated
metal roof built by the residents. This chapel doubles for meetings
of the sports club and weekly movies sponsored by a priest from the
nearby satellite town who has "adopted" the settlement. He makes
weekly sorties into the settlement, tending to the spiritual needs and
helping to organize community activities.
Community structure is more apparent in the older settlement
than in the newer one. Shortly after the settlement was formed, a
local "Committee for Community Progress" campaigned for utilities.
Though this group is now dormant, the settlement has at least the forms
of organization present, with elected officials and a charter.
Moreover, the barrio fields a very good soccer team which rou-
tinely wins all its games. The fame of the team in the area is such
that several men who live in the adjacent, more prestigious residential
community even play soccer for the squatter settlement team. We have
never heard these players refer to the poverty of the settlement.
Rather, all are proud to be on a winning team. A major community
effort was expended in the barrio to raise money to buy uniforms which
are now worn at all the games. Such signs constitute sure indications
of a growing barrio identity and permanence.
Squatter settlements in the San Jose area generally have in-
creased in the last few years, and although they are still rare, they
seem to form one effective alternative solution to the housing shortage
in San Jose.
Although the rural villages from which we drew 3.5 percent of
our subjects are agriculturally based, they are only 40 minutes from
downtown San Jose by bus. They enjoy the complement of governmental
services common to other rural areas: the rural police guard and a
school. Other institutions present in the communities include com-
munity center buildings, branches of Alcoholics Anonymous, and, in one
village, a small library. Every village has also a church, though
these vary in maintenance and quality. Priests generally visit these
rural villages on a monthly basis.
These places are enveloped by coffee groves. Their houses vary
in construction and include old wattle and daub or adobe plantation
types, newer wooden structures common throughout the central plateau,
and modern concrete-block structures.
Many families have members who commute daily on buses to San
Jose for work.
The range of commerce in the villages is very limited, with only
a small bar or two and a couple of small groceries in evidence. For
most shopping the residents go to San Jos6.
As in the other barrios and towns previously described, soccer
is popular. Rustic soccer fields are everywhere, and there are usually
groups of boys engaged in informal games upon them. Social life in
these places is tranquil and relatively quiet. In the evenings people
are frequently seen walking in family or age-mate groups along the
narrow paved roadways traversing the settlements.
Despite the fact that San Jose comprises a metropolitan area of
over 500,000 persons, with a diverse array of commercial, industrial,
and residential areas, it has an amazingly intimate character. One
can pass quickly from one type of neighborhood to another totally
different, yet, through the city, one constantly meets acquaintances
in casual street encounters. The central focus of the transportation
system facilitates this and contributes to the "personal" rather than
the anonymous nature of San Jose life. One can easily reach the
farthest of our neighborhood types in but a half an hour from the
center of the city.
The relationship of the government with the residents of a
squatter settlement is vital if services are to be obtained, and if
de facto official recognition of the usurpation of the land is to be
obtained. One resident summarized community thoughts about the govern-
ment and the future of the settlement:
I like the poeple and the atmosphere in the barrio. It
has to change though, put in a road--something the government
has to do. When we built there, they told us that we couldn't
because it belonged to the government and that any time some
tractor would come and knock down all the houses. They couldn't
because there were so many children there in the barrio, and
since then there hasn't been any trouble. It was just a threat.
I think that the government can't do anything because we are
children of the country and we have a right to the little piece
of land that belongs to us.
The government is no longer threatening the existence of these areas.
Rather, the welfare agency has begun studies to develop a program to
give low-cost housing to the residents of the newer settlement, con-
spicuously located alongside a main, heavily trafficked highway.
Squatter housing is ramshackle. Loose boards and pieces of tin
roofing gleaned from construction sites are put together in residences
of conglomerate appearance. The older homes have room divisions more
elaborately appointed with pasteboard walls paneling the insides and
decorations featuring magazine cutouts, plastic flowers, and religious
ornamentation. Some of the most makeshift dwellings are made of card-
board and will probably not last out the eight-month San Jos6 rainy
Water is crucial in squatter settlement life. Public spigots and
places where water is collected from drains are thus key meeting places
for the residents. Buckets in hand, the people come up for their
share of water several times daily.
Status Characteristics of Subject Population
The preceding description of San Jos6, particularly its diverse
residential zones, provides the environmental context for the follow-
ing discussion of our subject population's status characteristics.
The characteristics elaborated here are dwelling area within the city,
housing type within the dwelling area, and occupational type. This
profile of status characteristics is presented to help establish the
working-class nature of our subject population. This categorical
description of the population is given behavioral, relational meaning
in Chapters III and IV, which focus on the social dynamics of this
working-class world and cannabis's role in it.
Dwelling Area and Housing Type
According to Warner (1960, p. 141), most cities and towns may be
divided into several ecological areas perceived as having unequal
prestige and value, both socially and economically. As illustrated
in Table 2, summarizing the residential distribution of our subjects,
most of these men came from such a socially defined area in San Jose,
the stable contiguous zone which is clearly a working-class dwelling
area. Characterized by homogeneous working-class housing of modest,
single-story, wood construction and by an abundance of working-class
cottage industries and trades, this area is the home of working-class.
residents and is generally perceived as being a residential area suited
only to people of that class.
Many of the remaining subjects live in residential areas not
fitting such a neat characterization of social class. Two of these
areas, the satellite towns and peripheral transitional barrios, are
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mixed in socioeconomic terms, having working-class residences inter-
spersed among new, costly housing recently built for San Jose profes-
sionals and wealthy foreigners. The satellite town where the univer-
sity is located is characterized by such residential mixing. In this
town, as in other satellite towns and peripheral transitional neighbor-
hoods, there are solid working-class enclaves, resembling in configura-
tion the working-class stable contiguous neighborhoods described above.
Subjects from the satellite towns and peripheral, transitional barrios
dwell in these working-class enclaves.
Other subjects live in the residentially mixed central barrios.
Although these areas are generally working-class and commercial, one
finds a few elegant old homes, remnants of the days when the elite
lived in the central city, and modern high-rise apartment buildings
providing expensive and prestigious housing. Our subjects from these
areas do not enjoy the amenities of the latter; rather, they live either
in a single-story wood house, a single room rented in one of these
abodes, or in one of the ubiquitous "hotels" which are cheap, dirty,
and service all manner of commerce. For the most part, subjects from
these areas reside in the first type of housing, often used for the
small family business as well as the family residence.
This description of our subjects in terms of working-class
residential zones is complemented by the results of a housing survey
administered to all the subjects in the final sample. The data used
in this survey parallel criteria employed by Warner (1960, pp. 143-
150) for the purpose of demonstrating stratification boundaries. The
data presented in Table 3 present a profile suggesting the homogeneous
Housing Profile of Final Sample
Feature Number Percent
House 56 70.9
Apartment 8 13.9
Room 11 10.1
Squatter hut 4 5.1
Terms of Occupancy
Own 22 27.8
Rent 44 55.8
Borrow 8 10.1
Squat 5 6.3
Wood 57 72.1
Cement 10 12.7
Tile 10 12.7
Trampled earth 2 2.5
Zinc 67 84.8
Ricalit 2 2.5
Concrete 1 1.3
Wood 8 10.1
Not applicable 1 1.3
Glass windows and grates 11 13.9
Glass 49 62.0
Wood shutters 15 19.0
None 4 5.1
Electric stove 49 64.5
Gas stove 6 7.9
Charcoal stove 11 14.5
Camp stove 6 7.9
None 4 5.2
Block 4 5.1
Block and wood 8 10.3
Wood 66 84.6
Feature Number Percent
Present 75 94.9
Absent 4 5.1
Present 74 93.7
Absent 5 6.3
Present 74 93.7
Absent 5 6.3
Present 72 91.1
Absent 2 8.9
*Although most percentage figures are based on the total matched
sample of 41 users and 41 non-users, some are based on different totals
because of a small amount of non-reporting.
nature of our subjects' housing which fits the general pattern of
working-class Costa Ricans. Particularly notable is the sound construc-
tion of the housing, which provides, humble, but adequate shelter in
the mild San Jose climate.
Residential pressure on the subjects is taking the form of in-
creased rent and increased need for doubling up among families within
the extended kindred. While structures are sound, increased crowding
may render the housing less liveable.
Table 4 presents the profile of occupations represented in the
original sample of 240 from which the final matched sample of 41 pairs
was drawn. The most numerous category is that of artisan, including
a varied group of men practicing a number of interchangeable skills.
These men are subjected to a capricious work schedule, dependent upon
weather, an uncertain demand for services, and a labor market exceed-
ing job opportunities. Some of these artisans work as laborers when
higher-paying jobs are not available. Yet, they saw themselves as
artisans and classified themselves as such for our study. Only 7 sub-
jects termed themselves laborers per se.
The second largest occupational category represented in the
sample consists of jobs related to transportation. This group includes
independent truckers running a shipping operation, mechanics, salaried
drivers, and independent taxi owner/drivers.
The next largest categories consists of service-and commerce-related
jobs. Subjects engaged in the former category of work are part-time
workers whose income largely depends on their skill in creating a market
Categories Represented in Original Sample of 240
Not identifiable 15
Category includes vendors of
food, clothing, or personal
articles, workers in cottage
industries where auto acces-
sories, furniture, and decora-
tive objects are made and sold.
Category includes those resid-
ing and working on small farms
near San Jose.
Category includes mechanics and
drivers of trucks, taxis, and
Category includes shoemakers,
tailorers, bakers, carpenters,
roofers, plasters, watch repairers,
machine repairers, electricians.
It is common to be skilled in
Category includes construction
Category includes shoeshine men,
guards, and caretakers.
No known means of livelihood.
_ ~_~_ ------
for their services (e.g., shoeshine boys and guards for parked cars
must persuade clients that their services are needed).
Those in commerce conduct business on a small scale, many locating
their businesses and cottage industries in their residences. Generally,
their business transactions are limited to working-class clientele
and take place in working-class neighborhoods or common centers such
as the market, bus stops, or downtown commercial areas.
Subjects in agriculture also are engaged in small-scale operations.
For the most part, they work on farms on the outskirts of San Jos6.
The occupational endeavors of the subjects underscore the working-
class nature of the study population, for their occupations are clearly
working class. Middle-class employment was represented by only two
office workers in the sample, one a low-level functionary and the other
a draftsman. There were no professionals in the sample.
Men whose work was not identifiable were chronically unemployed
or unable to work at all. Only two of these men were included in the
In a fashion analogous to Stone's (1975) study, which traced
genealogical networks to describe Costa Rica's social and political
structure, social networks were identified and traced to gain entry
into the working-class world of San Jose, thereby recruiting a broad
geographical and occupational sample of men from that class. The
entry into the social networks of these men, the environment where they
reside, recreate, and work, and their general status characteristics
vis a vis the urban setting have been described.
Exploring the social networks of these men and analyzing associated
relational systems provided insight into the dynamics of working-class
life and the role of cannabis in its social processes. This analysis
of working-class life is the focus of the next two chapters, the first
highlighting the socialization of our subjects and the second emphasiz-
ing their adult social world.
THE SUBJECTS AS CHILDREN: FAMILY, STREET, AND SCHOOL
This chapter focuses on early life-history experiences of the
82 working-class subjects in order to present a general profile of
working-class family and to illustrate two distinct patterns of
socialization within this framework, one pattern generally associated
with the users of cannabis and the other with the non-users. The de-
scription of differential family dynamics associated with the two
patterns suggests that cannabis use is related to fundamental social
processes antedating the onset of drug use and may be regarded as a
normal behavioral option for some in the working class.
The discussion centers on the institutional membership, or rela-
tions of real interconnectedness (Warner, 1960), of the subjects in
their formative years, with special emphasis given to the relational
systems of family, education, and informal peer groups. In this
analysis, the socialization process is viewed as the replication of
societal forms in terms of choices made within a field of interper-
sonal relationships (Kimball and McClellan, 1966; Moore, 1973;
Partridge, 1974). Incentives and restrictions stemming from this re-
lational field canalize choice for each generation, and, in this chapter,
early socialization experiences of the subjects are examined to show
this process. The social conditions presented suggest that the de-
cision to use cannabis is correlated with the nature of interpersonal
relationships found in early childhood and adolescence. A complex of
behavior, including marihuana use, is learned through these social
The discussion begins with a description of the subjects' family
of orientation which presents a general profile of working-class
family behavior. In broad outline, the users and non-users were
similar with regard to the family of orientation. The structure of
family for the two groups showed no major differences, though there is
evidence that the subjects' experience with the family was different
in each of the groups. The latter is discussed in terms of differen-
tial family dynamics related to early home abandonment and the closely
associated habit of cannabis use.
This description of the relational system of family is followed
by an analysis of early experiences with formal institutions of schooling
and with informal peer groupings. As in the case of family interaction,
the early influences of peer, authorities, and institutions were re-
membered by the subjects and formed part of the corpus of knowledge,
sensibility, and motivation which guides their adult lives.
This relational analysis of early life experiences is central
to an understanding of cannabis's role in working-class society. The
perspective gained by such an examination is vital since the customary
behavior of drug consumption is begun as an outgrowth of these early
Behaviors are learned, as a child, to permit participation in
the social system of youth, with family, schooling, and informal
peer association forming the basic subsystems. Different role attri-
butes are associated with the different subsystems and the manner in
which different individuals develop appropriate sets of behavior to cope
with personal contexts creates a great range of sociocultural varia-
tions around the "norm."
Family of Orientation of Working-Class Subjects
The most important institution for the child is his family of
orientation. In the case of the men discussed here, its importance is
suggested by their detailed accounts of family life, revealing their
propensity to retain elaborate memories about this part of their
As suggested in Chapter II, the Costa Rican working-class family
has largely grown out of a rural background of small, independent hold-
ings relatively isolated from one another and exploited by nuclear
families. The parental stability in such households, the interaction
patterns basically with extended kin, and the reluctance to develop
strong ties merely on the basis of geographical propinquity are fea-
tures functionally geared to such a way of life.
In such a system, intergenerational continuity is assured through
socialization of the young into the corporate nature of the family
farm through intensive interaction with kin. As roles and statuses
learned in the family canalize choice about the economic and social
future, so too is owernship of the property passed down the line.
Yet, Costa Rica is urbanizing today, and families interviewed report
that they perceived greater opportunity in the city, leading to their
decision to migrate.
The urban family pattern seems to parallel that described by
Lewis (1965b) when he addressed himself to the effect of urbanization
on lower-class family life. In general, he found patterns in the city
to be very similar to those in the small town, except for a slightly
higher percentage of extended families living together in the city.
As in small towns, the urban families remained strong and cohesive and
continued to show extended-family solidarity in times of crisis and
Given such a traditional family structure, the working-class male
is free to choose employment where it is most to his advantage, de-
pending upon a capricious labor market. A solid conjugal relationship
acts as the core of a stable family unit that leaves him free to wander
as he desires. At the same time, frequent contact with the closest
members of his bilateral kindred provides him with insurance against
the ravages of unemployment, illness, or other such calamities. His
tenuous ties with neighbors leave him great latitude for the develop-
ment of associational networks built around interests that have particu-
lar appeal to him and that crosscut the city, e.g., work, sports, drug
use, and other recreation. Furthermore the general stability of mother-
father and parent-child relationships provides lasting points of
reference in the midst of rapid change.
This reliance upon developed extended-family relationships, the
shared family-structure patterns of our subjects, and the common rural
roots of many of the families generally provides the organization and
values for coping with life in the city. However, as Lewis (1959, 1961,
and 1965b) has made abundantly clear, the actual success of a particu-
lar family in coping varies markedly according to specific circumstance.
Where families provide the individual fewer economic or social
resources, the alternative is not breakdown or disorganization, but the
cultivation of other sets of relationships, usually informal relational
groupings of age mates or older youths. This alternative relational
system, marked by a commonality of experience which is both supportive
and educational, emerges as a contrastive experience to the family. The
dynamics of this informal relational system are discussed following the
description of family.
As described by the subjects, the relational structure of the
typical family of orientation had about five members, including both
parents, two or three children, and occasionally a bilateral relative.
The range, however, was wide, with some households as small as one and
others as large as 16. Dramatic differences were usually accounted
for by the amount of family clustering which, in turn, was attributed
to economic constraints and pressures. To lower rent for a short
time or extended periods, families grafted onto each other, doubling
up on space and halving costs. Typically a sibling of the husband or
wife lived in "temporarily" until he or she was able to make an inde-
pendent break. Also an aging parent might pass his or her last years as
a member of the household.
A subject describes a cramped living arrangement necessitated by
My woman's father has always lived with us. He used to
work unloading trucks, but he has given that up now. He's too
old. We live in a house with twelve of her relatives. The
two of us and her two children, plus the twelve of them. There
are brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles. What an army! And
the rest of the relatives live across the street in a little
two-story house. ie get along all right, but everyone has
their little peeves. We yell at one another from time to time,
but we get along. We have to.
Overwhelmingly, the biological parents were the significant adults
in the informants' childhood.
Father alone 5 6.1
Mother alone 17 20.7
Both parents 51 62.3
Other 9 10.9
In most cases both biological parents were present during the child-
hood period. While there was no doubt that both biological parents
predominantly fulfilled their social roles as the child's most im-
portant adults, in a number of cases, single-parent households were
headed by the mother. In fewer cases were the households headed by
In those cases which did not fit the general pattern, the re-
lational structure of a nuclear family was maintained by the introduc-
tion of surrogate parents. Thus, grandmothers or aunts and uncles
would fill in the breach. There was no clear tendency for such in-
dividuals to be either patrilineally or matrilineally related. The
overwhelming pattern was one of bilateralism. Thus, some subjects
could, with elaborated bilateral kindreds, survive even catastrophes
of the nuclear family. For others without this flexibility, the con-
sequences were more disruptive. Where intensive contacts led out of
the family, choice among alternative behavior styles was widened.
One subject related an arrangement with a paternal aunt:
My father never lived at home. Finally things got so
bad that my aunt took me home with her. I never saw my
father, and I loved my aunt more than ni mother. I was happy
with her. She gave me food and clothing. My older brothers
and sisters sometimes slept with us in the house or went with
another aunt. I stayed there until I got married when I was
18. My own family had disappeared. They were all over the
When men had, as children, been treated decently under such arrange-
ments, they reacted positively to them.
Although, as already noted, the majority of parental bonds were
stable, a considerable minority, about 30 percent, were dissolved be-
fore the subject reached the age of 12. Dissolution of the family was
usually precipitated by the death of a parent and accompanied by an
unsuccessful economic adjustment. Often children were divided up
among relatives, but some ran away, and no family structure remained
whatsoever. Normally, structure could be maintained with surrogates
in parental roles, or with a single parent household. As family in-
teractive styles disintegrated, other relational alternatives became
imperative, constituting another adaptive strategy for working-class
End of Parental Relationship During Socialization
Separation/divorce 17 20.7
Death 13 15.9
Never together 8 9.7
Did not end 44 53.7
In contrast with the pattern reported for much of Latin America,
bonds of fictive kinship, godparents, and coipadrazo2 seem little
elaborated among members of Costa Rica's working class. Where contact
was maintained with a godparent, little more than a social greeting
was exchanged; there was none of the important gift-giving and assis-
tance normally associated with the institution.
Contact with Godparents
Annual contact 23 28.0
Less than annual 28 34.1
No contact 29 35.4
Not applicable 2 2.5
One subject reported a typical relationship with a godparent:
I got stuck with a poor godfather. He never helped me.
I can't remember a single gift from him. My parents had to
baptize me; I was one and almost walking, so this man offered
to be the padrino (godfather). They accepted to speed things
up, and so I was baptized. But he never did anything for me.
Many subjects could not remeinber ever having met their godparents,
and in many cases, the men did not even know who they were. Some
acknowledged that their relatives in the country were much more active
in keeping the ties of ritual kinship alive. In the city, however,
neither godparenthood nor compadrazgo se,. important to the working
class either as a religious sacrar,'ent or as a set of social relation-
ships. This failure to elaborate the institutions of co-parenthood
denies the working-class residents one important type of social re-
Baptism as a sacrament is itself a simple affair, with little
elaboration of ritual to reinforce social ties. One fieldworker
served as godfather for an informant's son and related the baptism:
Pedro was one of eight who were being baptized. Three
photographers were present selling their services to record the
event. They took over as ritual directors, telling all where to
stand and what to do: the godparents with the baby behind the
altar rail and the biological parents in the pews. The service
was brief, as the priest worked his way down the row annointing
and baptizing each baby. During the service, the photographers
took pictures of each baby. At the conclusion of the service
the biological parents joined the godparents and filed to the
parish office where certificates were signed and fees paid.
The entourage for each baby consisted only of the godparents and
biological parents; no additional friends or relatives were
present. After leaving the parish office, the fieldworker and
Pedro's parents returned to their home where a sweet wine and
crackers with tuna were served. As the couple lived with the
wife's mother, her mother was present, but no other relatives
had come. After half an hour of conversation, the event was over,
and the fieldworker departed.
The event did not change the relationship between the godparents and
Pedro's parents; no new kin term of compare was used.
Interactions within the family of orientation, however, were
highly developed. Interaction with both sides of the extended kindred
was elaborate, with visits even on a daily schedule among kinsmen.
Often these individuals lived in the same block or neighborhood so
that it was not difficult to maintain close contact. Propinquity
with relatives was a highly valued residential goal which one still
sees in the manner in which kinsmen tend to cluster in barrio neighbor-
hoods. Thus, one subject mentioned that his brother had gone "away"
to live on the other side of town, but returned to the neighborhood
because it was too difficult to keep in touch with his kin.
In spite of such propinquity, many informants insisted that they
were reluctant to depend upon relatives for help, and in fact claimed
never to do so. At the same time, many of these cases revealed signifi-
cant help and exchange among relatives. One man told a story of family
hostility and absence of any help whatsoever, and yet later explained
how an aunt had generously given his family the lifetime free use of a
small farm. The ambivalence seemed due to the informant's own insecurity
and inability to contribute to the family because of his being perpet-
ually unemployed and alcoholic.
Moving from house to house was common for the majority, although
36 percent of the subjects did not move once in their entire childhood.
Sixty-three percent of the subjects moved less than once every year.
These moves were necessary because of job changes, doubling up on
housing, or an economic pinch or windfall. Moves were part of the
adaptive strategy of the working class for maximizing resources.
The customary behavior of these families of orientation centered
upon the home. Rented or owned, the house became home base for the
working man who returned for dinner, as well as for children returning
from school with their school uniforms sailed from the day's scuffles
and games. The home's anchor was seen as a hardworking mother. She
lost her attractiveness quickly, giving birth, washing, cleaning,
tending babies and aging parents, and dealing with swarms of neighbor-
For the female spouse, more than for any other member of the
family, the residential barrio was the main social horizon. Neighbor-
hood shops and services were all within a block of the house, so she
did not need to walk far to shop, have shoes mended, or have a school
uniform repaired. While often sending a young child to run these errands
so as not to leave a baby alone, she liked to get out of the house,
even for simple tasks. An infrequent trip downtown to pay the electric
bill was a trek, and even standing in line at the bank for up to an
hour was splendid, as an honorable and proper way of watching people,
eavesdropping for news, and breaking the routine.
We heard many accounts of these journeys. They provided oppor-
tunities for our subjects as young boys to learn about the shape of the
city and an adult world of commerce and responsibility. A special
treat of ice cream sealed the impression of high adventure. Bit by bit,
parents, as the child's most important adults, guided the child's ventures
out from the barrio as he formed an impression of what was possible for
him in the city. The structure of the lessons took shape from the rela-
tionships and activities of childhood. The view of the whole was
abstracted from the evaluation put upon the specific experiences as a
youngster, as defined by kin, peers, and authorities.
Most informants expressed general satisfaction with their child-
hood homes and life. Usually this was stated in modest terms:
My life, my childhood, wasn't opulent, but it wasn't
impoverished either. We stayed on top because my father worked
and my mother rented out little houses, and we were able to
defend ourselves. Not really comfortable, believe me, but
we weren't desperate either.
Satisfaction with Childhood
Positive 42 51.2
Negative 26 21.7
Neutral 14 17.1
The large number of subjects claiming unsatisfactory childhood
suggests that there is a variant upon the general theme of working-
class family life thus far developed. Subjects expressing such dis-
satisfaction usually looked elsewhere for primary social contacts,
particularly among age mates and older youth; this behavior will be
discussed later in this chapter.
Several conditions contributing to this lack of satisfaction
have been suggested in the preceding discussion of family life and will
be elaborated later. Particularly notable is the fact that 38 subjects
reported the dissolution of their parents' relationship during the
subjects' early years, often creating serious adjustment problems for
Yet, for the majority the childhood experience in the home was
pleasant, characterized by relational patterns seen as supportive and
rewarding rather than rancorous or frustrating. One informant de-
scribed how roles were positively defined in his family so as to
minimize family discord. His experience reflects the general pattern
of domestic relationships reported for the respondents' families.
We never had fights in the house. No one was mean like
that. Yelling and fighting, never. I was the oldest and set
the example and corrected my brothers and sisters, and they
respected me. They could be playing, and one word from me was
an order. My mother told them that they had to respect their
older brother and do what I said.
Parents generally got along amiably. One user conveyed the
ambience of parental collaboration.
My parents got along always. There was complete coordina-
tion between them. My father never punished me. He gave me
advice, said, "Don't do that, do this." He had me say an Our
Father when I was bad, nothing more. My mother was another
story. She used an electric wire which really stung. But thank
God for them, because they were right and if it hadn't been
for them I might be like some of the men in the barrio who
drink and beat their wives. My father always told me never
to spend a lot of time in bars, and I didn't. A father's
advice is important because he has a lot more experience and
can tell you what to do.
Very few remembered relationships which were predominantly
hostile. In the few cases reported, bitter fights typified normal
interactions between parents. Not surprisingly, such relationships
Relationship Between Parents
Amiable 35 42.7
Hostile 8 9.6
Variable 19 23.2
Not applicable 20 24.5
When parents argued, it was usually over the father's drinking
or a shortage of money, although such arguments did not lead to either
less drinking or more money. Generally no particular parent inevitably
won. Some subjects referred humorously to a "tie score" between
parents, one scoring a "goal" one time, the other scoring on another
occasion. In a few families, arguments led to actual fighting and
Most subjects know very little about their parents' courtship
and marriage, a fact which points out the absence of family history
and lore among working-class families. They seemed surprised at the
suggestion that they talk about it, and some responded, "It never
occurred to me to ask." In the few cases where answers were forth-
coming, it appears that the parents had known each other for several
months to a year before becoming engaged, and that the engagement had
lasted for several months before marriage. In a few cases, engagements
had lasted for years. Stable common-law arrangements were accepted
by their offspring as being of equal status with formal church mar-
The general sense of satisfaction with childhood was based on
many experiences. Men who felt that, as children, they had been
treated fairly, had had enough to eat, had related to their parents,
siblings, and relatives in a rewarding way, had had opportunities to
play with friends, and had enjoyed the opportunity to go to school,
expressed contentment in the interviews when reflecting on their early
years. Men who were dissatisfied with their childhood came from
families that were not economically solvent, where there were absent
parents, high alcohol use by the father, fights among family members,
or inconsistent and capricious treatment as children.
Mothers were generally seen as sympathetic figures, mediating
between stern fathers and obstreperous peers. Costa Rican motherhood
is celebrated in an elaborate Mother's Day on August 15, a national
holiday coinciding with the popular Latin American celebration of the
feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. Mothers are feted,
sung about, and revered, but they work hard for their rewards.
For the families in which our subjects grew up, daily routines
began early. When the sun rose at 5:00 a.m., it was already late in
the homes of working-class families. Mothers had to get their spouses
to work in buses, which started running at five, and children off to
school, which began at seven.
Subjects' fathers felt that good wives and mothers should not
stray far from home. Trips downtown should be kept to a minumum, and to
be seen loitering in the street was considered unseemly. Mothers sent
small children on errands around the neighborhood, but accompanied
their daughters on longer journeys in the city. A man whose wife and
children strayed from home was seen as not exerting enough control or
As shown in the following table, fathers tended to work full time
in stable jobs.
Full time* 57 69.5
Stable jobs* 48 58.5
*Categories not mutually exclusive.
Those fathers who did not fit this pattern worked part time or not at
all, had unstable jobs, or were absent from the family altogether.
Accounts of the nature, quality, and success of the father's
work were a good predictor for the quality of family life. Not sur-
prisingly, fathers could fulfill their family obligations only if
their personal habits and preparation permitted it. The variety of
work skills they could offer was important in allowing them to take
advantage of different job iirkets. The construction trades were par-
ticularly vulnerable during the eight-month rainy season, for workers
were laid off at any moment for inclement weather and would lose salary
for the lost hours. Variable labor markets continue to be a problem
for their sons, who reported to us the problems of finding regular
Subjects noted that their fathers, when salaried, were paid on
Saturday at mid-day, which is still a feature of working-class work
schedules. Inevitably, part was spent immediately on a few drinks with
friends, and the balance was rationed out over the week. Although some
fathers gave a weekly allowance to their wives, the majority simply
gave a daily sum to the spouses every morning for the family's food and
Slightly less than half of the subjects' fathers tended to drink
heavily. One of the first things these informants mentioned about their
fathers was the amount of liquor they consumed. In one informant's
All I can remember about my childhood is that my father
was an alcoholic. He did incredible things to my mother when
he was drunk. That is why I never drink now. I won't give
my children this example. He was so different when he didn't
drink. He was decent and treated us well. But drunk, just
stay out of his way!
When informants complained about going hungry as children, alcohol was
often mentioned as the cause. The importance of alcohol as a recrea-
tional event continues to be a highly visible aspect of working-class
life. Bars abound in the residential neighborhoods and are usually
crowded. Social consumption of guaro, or cane liquor, is a ubiquitous
feature of the working-class social scene.
As a rule, fathers tended to spend their free time with their
peers from work or with friends rather than with their families, a
pattern characterizing their sons' adult social world as well. Through
control over the family budget, however, they asserted their role as
head of household in an authoritarian manner. Subjects often found that
their mother ran the house until their father came home, and that then
he would take charge. Superior male authority patterns seemed solidly
entrenched as operating principles in the home.
More than half of the respondents said that they were not at all
spoiled (chineados) as children. They talked about general family
poverty as not permitting it. Those who thought that they had been
spoiled described special trips downtown for something to eat and gifts
of money to go to the movies or to buy candy as proof of special paren-
tal treatment. Gifts at Christmas were a sign of notable recognition.
Elaborate rewards, such as the one described below, were very unusual:
Once they gave me a bicycle. I had gotten into so much
trouble at school that they thought they could get me to be-
have if they gave me a nice present. After that I got a
little more enthused about classes. I kept up with my
studies and passed that year. They gave me a new suit of
clothes when I passed.
More common were stories of parental punishment. All were punished
from time to time. In general, these punishments were perceived as
deserved. When not, fathers were thought to be less just than mothers
(see Table 11). Some unjust punishments specifically led to the
individual's decision to leave home. When this occurred, informants
focused on the severity and humiliation of the acts:
My mother punished me hard. When I was little, she put
my sister's dress on me so that I wouldn't leave the house.
God! I just hated that! I stripped off all my clothes, and
the moment she stopped watching, I grabbed my other clothes
and ran away. I liked to wander around the rivers, fishing,
and things like that.
More than fair 16 19.5
Fair 46 56.1
Less than fair 17 20.7
Not applicable 3 3.7
These punishments viewed as excessive are correlated with home abandon-
ment, to be discussed later.
Such unfair punishments contribute to an unsatisfactory view of
childhood, mentioned earlier. Also contributing to this negative view
is the presence of a hostile or unpredictable relationship between
parents. The negative impressions were cited by subjects who began
to look to their peers for companionship and leadership.
Relations with siblings apparently were highly variable. Often
subjects developed a buddy relationship with a brother of nearly the
same age. Yet, even in very close families, sibling feuds developed.
One young man described how such cleavages could occur:
My brother and I had a contradictory relationship.
He got along fine with me, but I couldn't get along with him.
He drank and I was little and he scared me. I tried to keep
out of his way then, and I still don't have anything to do
with him. I had two sisters, one older and one younger. I
got along fine with them. We understood each other and lived
at home together. My other sisters were older and had left
home so I didn't knot them very well.
Weekly routines included Sunday Mass, a must for the most pious
member of the family--nearly always the mother. In the words of one
My mother was a fanatic about religion, but my father
wasn't. He was--how shall I put it?--he was one of those who
didn't believe in anything or anybody. He didn't even have an
idea of God. It was just the opposite. Exaggerated! The
house was full of saints and candles. Every night she was pray-
ing to some saint. She'd go to Mass to pray to the saints, then
come home and do it again.
As children, the informants tended to go to Mass with their
mothers, but rarely became sufficiently involved with the Church to
serve as altar boys. Because Mass attendance was generally under
maternal pressure, many subjects stopped going regularly during adoles-
cence, thus gradually adopting the adult male pattern common to this
segment of Costa Rican society.
In speaking of their present perception of the church and the
priesthood, few had anything good to say. Several told stories about
priests who were capricious in chastizing them as children, and some
claimed that priests had made homosexual advances to them when they
were budding adolescents. In no case was a priest described as an
admirable role model.
Whatever religious instruction was received in childhood tended
to come from the mother or other female figure. Simple prayers were
taught and often recited together. Concepts of God as either punitive
or supportive were not highly developed. Nor was sexual morality
developed extensively in conversations between parents and children.
Most parents encouraged their children to participate in catechism
classes given in school or church, and thus most were steered through
the sacraments of Baptism and First Comniunion. Most emphasis was upon
decorous behavior in front of neighbors and friends, avoiding scandals,
and eschewing gossip.
My parents and my grandmother talked to me about morals
and good behavior. They told me that if I saw an older person
in the street I was to say "good afternoon" or "good morning"
and be very respectful. "Stay out of things that don't concern
you," they said. Every night my grandmother and I prayed an
Our Father together. They always gave me good advice and were
very firm. If I went into the street without permission, they
would spank me.
Family ritual cycles are traditionally a way of structuring re-
lationships and reinforcing roles. In Costa Rican working-class homes,
however, ritual within the family seems little developed, and the
events of Christmas were the only calendrical family ceremonial activity
reported. This seems consistent with the absence of elaboration of
family history and lore.
Christmas Eve, la noche buena, was fondly remembered as the
night when the family gathered to wait for baby Jesus to arrive with
gifts. On the vigil, all ate tamales and drank black coffee. The
women might drink a heavily sweetened eggnog called ronrope, and the
men managed to find something stronger. A creche scene, a portal, had
been set up for some weeks with an empty manger, waiting for midnight
and a child to place the tiny plastic Jesus doll in his traditional
crib. The portal was a menagerie of dolls representing wise men,
shepherds, firemen, farmers, salesmen, and the like. They were sur-
rounded by plastic trucks, trees, ornaments, moss, stumps, lights, tin-
sel, and, for the big night, baskets of grapes and apples--two very
expensive imported fruits. The portal remained up until the end of
January or the beginning of February, when the neighbors would be
invited in, and all would say a rosary and then drink a mild alcoholic
corn brew called chicha just before the dismantling.
These events were the ones described when informants were asked
to talk about regular customary behavior in their families' activities.
Many noches buenas were more modestly celebrated than that described;
lamentably, some households were regularly forgotten by the baby
Jesus altogether. Other kinds of family ritual such as birthdays,
family dinners, reunions, Sunday treks, and the like were not remem-
bered as regular or even sporadic happenings. We observed that even
today, family meal times are austere events, birthdays go by unrecog-
nized, Sundays are marked by every member's independent plans, and,
in general, the pale responses to questions about family ritual activ-
ity are verified.
Typically, parents did not belong to clubs, sports teams, or
community organizations. They might have attended public meetings
organized around a problem or project, but they did not tend to affili-
ate with any organization with a regular schedule of activities, nor
did they show any leadership in the barrio by taking initiative on a
problem. They generally did not belong to or participate in the
church activity guild, the parent-teachers' association, nor did they
help the parish in any tangible or organizational way.
Their political actions similarly evinced this passive pattern
of formal participation. They voted in the elections every four years
(voting is required by law although the law is rarely enforced), but
rarely helped any particular party by volunteering their time (see
Parental Political Activity
Work/vote 17 20.7
Vote only 34 41.5
No activity 22 26.9
Not applicable 9 10.9
Seldom did the subjects' parents have trouble with public authori-
ties; only four parents (10 percent) of non-users and seven (17 percent)
of users were reported to have had such problems. These difficulties
were usually related to public inebriation.
The pattern which emerges is that of a general reluctance to get
involved in affairs which might cause complications. This general
stance of non-involvement is continued into the present generation
of subjects who tend to see risk in public exposure or commitment.
Noteworthy in this regard is that subjects did not describe cordial
relationships between their families of orientation and their neighbors.
Rather, the following type of situation was characteristic:
My family wasn't well thought of in the barrio. We
were not much involved in things, politics, for example. The
neighbors nearest us hated the way my parents voted and made
it rough on them. There were arguments, and my parents decided
it was better not to have anything to do with them. They
didn't like having friendships in the neighborhood. They pre-
A value emphasized time and again by parents was that one should try
to live trarquilly (vivir tranquilo). This would imply that one should
The child was constantly tut'>cd between this introverted family
of orientation and the natural attractions of peers he met at school
and in the street. Family demands came early:
I worked as a kid collecting fares in the buses. I put
in half a day in that and went home and played and studied.
I was going to school at night so I did my homework whenever
I had some free time. Sometimes I made furniture which I sold.
I was about 12 then.
Many remembered working extensively with family members on busi-
ness deals or jobs. Family economic crises, such as the death of the
father, often made the son, in large part,responsible for the economic
fate of his family when other family resources were not available.
Less urgent, but common, economic endeavors involved the selling of
tidbits of food cooked by an older sister or the mother, working with
a brother gathering coffee or cutting weeds, selling gum or candy,
shining shoes, or carrying bundles home for shoppers. Earnings from
such work went into the family coffers. Children who participated
actively in the family economic endeavors tended to maintain close
relationships with members of their family of orientation throughout
One subject relates how he had to begin working at the age of
I had to work full time at the age of ten. I was the
man of the family. My father was run over by his cart which
he had used to transport large cans of milk, and he died. I
was the oldest. My mother and brothers and sisters counted on
me. I started by carrying packages at the market, then I got
a job as an errand boy. I tried construction, selling in the
street, everything. Finally, I went to the banana zone where
I made good money working in a restaurant. I was able to send
money home. Since I was ten, I've never stopped working.
This man had to start work younger than the average age of twelve for
the sample, a fact precipitated by family tragedy. Yet, all subjects
worked in their youth.
On reaching adolescence, it was common for the individual to
work at a job and bring his earnings home. The jobs were usually
ruggedly physical; lack of preparation made it difficult for the in-
dividual to find other types of work. Father-son partnerships in
business or trade were not common. While many subjects learned their
father's trade, they have not been bound by it, and the two rarely
collaborated in a project. Cottage industries such as shoemaking and
tailoring are seen to have dropped in profitability because of mechani-
zation, and therefore both fathers and sons have had increasingly to
learn a number of skills in order to make a living.
Families seemed to show general economic stability in the subjects'
period of childhood. In the majority of cases, there was neither up-
ward nor downward mobility. Those who did tell of family decline
attributed the problem to the father's inability to work, caused by
injury, alcoholism, or laziness. This was usually accompanied by an
abundance of children who lessened the mother's alternatives, with the
end effect being a marked decline in the standard of living. Family
groups located in the ramshackle housing in the riverine neighborhoods
were often in temporary or semi-permanent decline, and as a result,
could afford to live only in these least desirable locations.
The success of the family in managing these financial and social
adaptations naturally determines the resources and attention which
are available to the young children. As factors which are correlated
with successful family adjustment, they are very important.
This profile of working-class family life underscores overall
patterns of similarity found i.- the subject population. This common
pattern of family centered upon biological parents, siblings, and
other relatives who formed a vibrant kindred with a high level of
interaction and interdependence. While the style and form of family
interaction seem rooted in rural, agrarian patterns, the families,
in most cases, migrated to the city, where new alternatives and pres-
sures are found.
Although this profile may be said to be typical, many of the
subjects' families did not conform to it. Some lived in exceedingly
crowded homes--with an many as 16 family members. Thirty percent of
the subjects suffered the dissolution of the parental bond before they
were 12. Many suffered capricious punishment and found little solace
at home. Over a quarter found the childhood experience unpleasant due
to interpersonal tension, economic deprivation, or other hardships.
This divergence from the general profile reflects different
degrees of adaptation to a range of social and economic problems con-
fronting the working class. Oscar Lewis (1961 and 1965a) describes
differing individual and family abilities to respond to poverty far
more grinding than that faced by the San Jose working class. What is
clear is that the families represent different degrees of success in
coping with working-class problems. To be relatively successful, one
needs a viable family, dependable means of livelihood, and an atmo-
sphere of cooperation. The vicissitudes of working-class life are
particularly difficult for the social isolate.
Those less successful in coping with the complex of social and
economic problems are often members of families withered by death,
dissolution, rancor, or perilous econo;nic existence. Positive social
interactions within the family of such individuals are less frequent,
and family personnel find other contacts: the father drinks with
friends, the mother returns to her own kin, and their children find
their way in the street. This latter adaptation is still typically
a working-class pattern.
Two broad categories of working-class families emerged from the
analysis of the subjects' family materials; each category represents
a variant of the overall pattern elaborated earlier. What interests
the social scientist are the behaviors associated with each category,
particularly the rational responses of the individual actors to the
complex of circumstances facing them.
From this perspective the issue of cannabis use is examined. It
is asserted here that drug use can only be understood when the particu-
lar social circumstances associated with its use are specified. With
regard to the subject population, these conditions seem to be associa-
ted with the second adaptive mode of working-class families, those
characterized by rancor, dissolution, and precarious economic existence.
While a number of significant differences between the users and non-
users of cannabis suggest this conclusion, one phenomenon, home aband-
donment, subsumes the others, making it a logical point of departure
for this discussion of cannabis use and socialization experiences.
Family Dynamics, Home Abandonment, and Cannabis Use
Initial analysis of the life-history materials revealed the
finding that 25 of the users and only 5 of the non-users abandoned
home before the age of 16.