Chronic cannabis use among working-class men in San José, Costa Rica


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Chronic cannabis use among working-class men in San José, Costa Rica
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xiii, 177 leaves : ; 28 cm.
True, William Ray, 1942-
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Subjects / Keywords:
Drug abuse -- Forecasting   ( lcsh )
Drug abuse -- Social aspects -- Costa Rica -- San José   ( lcsh )
Cannabis   ( lcsh )
Social conditions -- San José (Costa Rica)   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis--University of Florida.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 170-176).
Statement of Responsibility:
by William Ray True, Jr.
General Note:
General Note:

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University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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aleph - 000210255
notis - AAX7076
oclc - 04185652
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Full Text




DEGREE 011 !L)CC7-"j OR iILSC!

19 16

William Ray True, Jr.



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

Simon Legree.




PREFACE . . . .

ABSTRACT . . . .



SCHOOL . . .






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
primary completed.

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
pack years.)

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

field researchers.

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



William Ray True, Jr.

June, 1976

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





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-

ducting research.

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.
(p. 39)

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

secular, life.

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.

Social Setting

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

colonial period.

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-

class population.

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

true identity.

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

working class.

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

the city.

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-

ginal neighborhoods.

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

soundly defeated.

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:

Table 1

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-

class residents.

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

making repairs.

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-

family compound.

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


Satellite Towns

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


Squatter Settlements

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

(Mangin, 1970).

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.

Rural Communities

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

Table 3

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

Table 3--(continued)

Feature Number Percent

Present 75 94.9
Absent 4 5.1

Present 74 93.7
Absent 5 6.3

Running Water
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.

Occupational Type

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

Table 4



Categories Represented in Original Sample of 240

Number Percent

















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
several areas.

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

final sample.

Chapter Summary

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.



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

limited funds:

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.

Table 5

Predominant Adults

Subjects (N=82)
Number Percent

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

the father.

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


Table 6

End of Parental Relationship During Socialization

Subjects (N=82)
Number Percent

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.

Table 7

Contact with Godparents

Subjects (N=82)
Number Percent

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-

hood children.

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.

Table 8

Satisfaction with Childhood

Subjects (N=82)
Number Percent

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

the children.

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

usually ended.

Table 9

Relationship Between Parents

Subjects (N=82)
Number Percent

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.

Table 10

Father's Work

Subjects (N=82)
Number Percent

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

household expenses.

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.

Table 11

Parental Punishment

Subjects (N=82)
Number Percent

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

Table 12).

Table 12

Parental Political Activity

Subjects (N=82)
Number Percent

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-
ferred enemies.

A value emphasized time and again by parents was that one should try

to live trarquilly (vivir tranquilo). This would imply that one should

exercise caution.

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

their adulthood.

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.