Values, Norms and Personality Development in Jamaica

By: Professor Carl Stone

Political Scientist

March 23, 1992





Human behaviour is significantly shaped by norms and values.  Values define for a society the things people strive for and attach great meaning and significance to.  Norms set rules of behaviour designed to express a commitment to the society’s underlying values.  The interaction between norms and values produces modal personality types in a culture or society with specific drives, motivations, expectations and propensity towards certain patterns of behaviour.  The analysis of human behaviour in any environment requires that we focus on all three social psychological dimensions, namely, values, norms, and modal personality types and behaviour patterns.





Drives and















Values and norms and the behavioural traits they shape tend to change and evolve over time as society itself becomes subject to fundamental changes.  As a result, the drives, motivations and dominant behavioural traits tend to change from period to period and epoch to epoch in responses to changes in norms and values.  Part of our task in understanding the dynamic link between values, norms and behavioural traits in Jamaican and Caribbean society is to relate their changing character to specific historical periods and to the social and economic structures predominant in those periods as well as to predict the directions in which future changes are likely to occur.


In our day to day analysis of social behavioural, political behavioural, and economic behaviour we make judgments about and assess the nature and impact of the values and norms operating in a society as a framework within which to understand these “behaviours”.  Yet we very rarely seek to focus attention in Caribbean social science theory and research on the realm of values, norms and personality traits.  We seek behavioural explanations from history and the structures and institutions that shape the individuals’ sense of self and attachment to goals and aspirations but rarely examine explicitly the norms and values which determine, underpin and help to shape the character and essence of those economic and social structures.  We treat values and norms as dependent variables caused by history, culture and institutions rather than as critical forces or independent variables that shape human behaviour and guide the predominant personality traits evident in a culture.


It is in this framework that I wish to address the issue of values, norms and personality or behavioural traits in Jamaican society, past, present and future.


Te dominant values in a culture are those values that relate to the major or important areas of social space such as family life, education, work and occupational activity, gender relations, class and ethnic relations, religion, mass communication, artistic and creative expression, sports and recreational and politics.  What is often perceived as the breakdown or absence of values and norms in crucial domains of social space (crime in communities, violent behaviour in public places, vandalism of public property, the breakdown of parenting and parental authority in family life, corruption in public life, obscenity and violence in the media, indiscipline in schools and sporting activities, low work and production norms at the workplace, etc.) are usually instances of misunderstood changes in values and norms and consequent changes in behaviour traits and patterns.  Also when we examine these major areas of social space, we are likely to find a common and relatively uniformed core and syndrome of underlying values and norms shaping, motivating and influencing and guiding personality traits.


Theory and research in the field of socialisation tend to treat the institutions operating in these domains of social space (family, church, school, peer groups, neighbourhoods, etc.) as being the sources and authors of values, norms and behavioural traits.  While this may be true in terms of the dynamics of human learning and the process by which institutions condition, regulate and motivate individual behaviour, it paints a false and distorted picture of the impact and role of values on human behaviour.  It grossly underestimates relative autonomy of values and value changes in shaping and determining how these core institutions themselves function and the content of their socialisation impact on the individual.  Institutions may transmit values and norms to the individual in the learning or socialization process but values, in turn, determine how these institutions operate and the norms or rules of behaviour that are derived from them.


The study of values and the norms that are derived from a society’s core values represent an important starting point for social analysis if we hope to uncover the drives behind human behaviour patterns and the course by which these behaviour patterns can change.


What all of this is suggesting is that in order to understand behaviour in these important domains of social space (sports and recreation, education, religion, politics, community interaction, mass communication, the workplace, family life, gender relations and class and ethnic relationships) we need to focus on the common core of dominant values operating in a society in particular periods and on the social forces that cause these values and norms to change over time as society evolves from period to period.  This requires a wholistic approach to the analysis of society and human behaviour which has largely been abandoned in the search for narrow disciplinary specializations.  But this multi-disciplinary and wholistic approach to analyzing human behaviour is critical if we are to comprehend the nature of the dominant values in a society and how they shape behaviour in these various spheres, areas or domains of social space (sports and recreation, education, religion, politics, community interaction, mass communication, the workplace, family life, gender relations and class and ethnic relationships) we need to focus on the common core of dominant values operating in a society in particular periods and on the social forces that cause these values and norms to change over time as society evolves from period to period.  This requires a wholistic approach to the analysis of society and human behaviour which has largely abandoned in the search for narrow disciplinary specialisations.  But this multi-disciplinary and wholistic approach to analysing human behaviour is critical if we are to comprehend the nature of the dominant values in a society and how they shape behaviour in these various spheres, areas or domains of social space.


The other central issue we need to address here is to focus on the social forces that shape values and norms over time and trigger consequent changes in behaviour patterns.  These social forces include the following:


·          urbanisation and overcrowding


·          the expansion of mass education and growth of literacy


·          exposure to mass media


·          migration and travel


·          dislocation in economic opportunities and changes in the distribution of economic power


·          the promotion of social ideologies that redefine the individual’s sense of identity, motivations and goals


One of the major weaknesses of the western social science tradition is its failure to fully comprehend the relationships and links between macro level social forces and micro or individual level changes and adaptations.  While both levels of reality are encompassed in theory and analysis in economics, sociology and political science, macro and micro level realities tend to be separately analysed in these disciplines and to be theoretically disconnected while what is needed are modes of theory that illuminate our understanding of how macro social forces impact on micro level motivations and socialization processes, drives and behavioural traits.  In contrast to economics, political science and sociology, the discipline of social psychology offers us a better guide and some better insights into how the macro level social forces impact on the micro level attitudinal and motivational patterns and trends and forces us to integrate rather than disconnect our analysis of these two levels of social reality.


When these social forces change, the macro environment in which the individual functions changes values and norms to allow the individual to adapt to the new situation and out of this change emerges new patterns of human behaviour in these major domains or spheres of social space.


When we add a treatment of these macro level social forces to our existing model of what shapes human behaviour in various domains of social space in a society like Jamaica, we end up with the following paradigm that integrates in a wholistic fashion the links between macro and micro social forces and concentrates on the entire field of forces shaping human behaviour in these various domains of social space.








Motivations and drives






Social forces









What we have come to know and define as the important periods of history (feudal society, industrial society, traditional society, modern society, plantation society and post plantation society and post plantation society in the Caribbean) represent a distinct syndrome of features and characteristics predominant in particular periods and we need to link changes in values and norms and their consequent behavioural changes in the various domains of social space to fundamental changes occurring in these syndromes or clusters of macro level characteristics of the social order and the social environment. 


The operative social forces that either stabilize a society or trigger pressures for change, get modified and changed from period to period.  In our case here in Jamaica we can talk about three main historical periods, namely, the slavery period, the post-emancipation plantation era and the post war modernisation period.  Each period is characterised by core values, norms regulating behaviour, institutional roles, functions and tasks in the major domains of social space and behavioural traits that derive form these underlying values and norms.  The macro changes that occurred between these periods reflected changes in the critical operative social forces which in turn reshaped values, norms and eventually modal behavioural and personality changes at the macro individual level.  We cannot understand the process of social change unless we are able to focus on the operative social forces that are dominant in particular periods and the syndrome of values and norms they give rise to and the consequent behaviour traits they engender at the micro individual level.


Another important factor we must take into account is the fact that the relative importance of these many domains of social space in shaping the society’s core values varies from period to period.  Family, church and community in rural small village nineteenth century Jamaica was more important to the society’s core values than workplace and school.  But in urbanised post war Jamaica, workplace and school have assumed ascendancy over family, church and community in terms of their importance in shaping the society’s values.



Core values






































                                              Domains of social space



Some values and norms persist in importance even after core values change because of their entrenched and deeply rooted character in the society’s many areas of social space.  For example, the social ideology of plantation society defined black people as being worthless and as belonging to an underclass of sub-human species incapable of full human development.  As a result blacks in Jamaica are constantly caught up in a struggle to assert their self worth by different means ranging from the exhibitionist displays of gold chains, to ownership of palatial residences and fancy motor cars and to displays of university degrees, fine clothing and elegant fashions.  Preoccupation with status and status recognition is therefore a major motivational factor in all domains of social space giving rise to what I have described elsewhere as a highly status oriented culture.


Core values shaping behaviour in any society have part of their genesis in the macro level power structures of ownership of productive assets and in the mechanisms (formal and informal) for control of power and power sharing between dominant elites (political, economic and cultural).  This is so because these core values serve to buttress and reinforce these power structures.  Core values therefore often assume the character of reinforcing social ideologies supportive of the existing power structure in society.  The core values and norms of post-emancipation plantation society in Jamaica assumed the character of a body of social ideology legitimising and reinforcing the power structure of plantation social order.  These values were challenged by new social ideologies and core values emerging in the immediate pre-war and later post-war years in social movements led by the intelligentsia but attracting widespread support from the dispossessed of  majority classes (small farmers, the unemployed, wage workers, self-employed petty capitalists, etc.)


Challenges to the status quo invariably give rise to countervailing values which try to weaken and undermine the status quo and prevailing power structures to create pressures for change.  For each historical period we need to identify how far the core value are reinforcing the existing power structure and how far core values critique or challenge that power structure to reform or change it, thereby setting in motion a whole dialectic of challenge and counter-challenge out of which changes and fundamental changes occur both at the level of values and norms as well as at the level of behaviour in the various domains of social space.


Tow outcomes are possible from this challenge.   The new values (egalitarianism, power sharing, widening the horizons of opportunity for the dispossessed) can emerge dominant and by their impact change the power structure into generating new power relations, new institutions or fundamental changes in old institutions, and new norms of behaviour.  This is precisely what has occurred in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.


Alternatively the power structure might be resilient to efforts at changing it while making some minor accommodations and adjustments to appease demands for fundamental changes.  This is precisely what occurred in the power structure’s response to the social and political demands for change that came of the 1930s and 1940s political struggles in Jamaica.


In this latter situation old and new ideologies, core values and norms compete for ascendancy in most domains of social space creating which I have called a power disequilibrium.


This weakens authority in all domains of social space and requires change initiatives from above to break the deadlock or stalemate between new and old values, norms and behavioural traits.  Such authority from “on high” reposes only a charismatic leadership or political authoritarianism which alone can restore any semblance order and authority, using that authority to create new institutions, new forms of political participation or new power relations that offer greater avenues and opportunities for the marinalised classes to have a say in how things are run in the society through community management or new forms of democratic participation.


Failure to break this stalemate or deadlock will result in a gradual drift towards social anarchy where raw power rather than authority holds sway.  This in my judgment is where Jamaica now is in the late twentieth century, namely, structural disequilibrium bordering on anarchist tendencies.


Where the dominant ideas and values in a society reinforce and support the existing power structure, very little pressures for political and social change will be generated.  On the other hand, when social ideologies reinforcing the existing power structure have been challenged or displaced by core values and ideas promoting basic changes in the power structure (more economic and social opportunity for the dispossessed, more power sharing between classes and ethnic groups, more egalitarian values and relationships, greater recognition of the worth of those persons at the base of the class structure) a society can be said to be in disequilibrium if the power structure remains intact or largely unchanged while new social ideologies seek but fail to redefine power relations within the various domains of social space (gender, class, race relations, workplace environment etc.).  This profile of social disequilibrium accurately characterises Jamaican society in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  This time perspective requires that we look beyond=d the immediate period to the future to project what changes are likely to occur in core values and behaviour in the 21st century in the various domains of social space.




Post emancipation plantation Jamaica was a closed racist society based around a rigid social hierarchy dominated by white and coloured planters and with a majority of poor black ex-slaves.  The power structure was anchored on landed wealth and a supportive master-servant ideology.


Life for ordinary Jamaicans was built around isolated rural villages, family, school and church, in addition to access to small plots of land, small scale buying and selling and artisan trades.


The core values that emerged out of this rural, agrarian and small village society were distinctive.  They were derived from a very paternalist social order and a highly conformist set of norms of behaviour that that expected everyone to know and accept their place in the rigid social order.


First of all status and worth were derived from ascribed values such as skin colour, land ownership, and family connections.  Rigid codes of behaviour were developed to distinguish the classes and the racial groupings and the norms and values demanded that individuals conform faithfully to these behaviour codes and accept the place in society they were born into with resignation.


One’s class was easily detected from modes of dress and speech that separated rich from poor and the life style differences between the haves and the have nots were extreme.  The haves married young, joined prestigious churches, attended exclusive secondary schools which groomed them for leadership, and maintained an elaborate and huge social distance between themselves and the have nots.  The have nots sought redemption through folk religions and built their lives around trying to be God-fearing, honest, independent, thrifty, morally upright and docile.  Educational opportunities were denied them and the accepted norm was that only a gifted few among them deserved opportunities human growth and development beyond the level in society they were born into.  Poverty was an accepted condition of life for the black majority.


Most of the blacks had very low self-esteem, virtually no aspirations for upward social mobility, and deep deference and respect towards the white and light skinned elite.  The society revered things European and despised things African although African cultural retentions were self-evident in musical expressions, folk traditions, speech patterns, religion and belief systems.  In all domains of social space imitation of European behaviour and values was associated with high status and respectability.  Self worth was achieved by earning respectability among one’s peers rather than striving to change one’s life situation.


The society was characterised by stability derived from high levels of goal fulfillment based on the very modest economic and social aspirations among the black majority and social doctrines that legitimised extreme social and economic inequality between the classes as being a natural condition sanctioned by religion.  The poor were conditioned to be God-fearing and humble and to seek after spiritual redemption in the afterlife and not to crave after material things.


The core values and derived behaviour norms emphasised in this paternalist social order were as follows and were pervasive in all domains of social space:


·        low black self esteem


·        deference to superiors


·        conformist behaviour


·        status and worth being defined mainly by ascribed rather than achievement values


·        rigid moral and behaviour codes that attached a stigma to deviant behaviour


·        a pre-occupation with social status and recognition


·        Eurocentric values and strong psychological identity with Britain and colonial authority symbols reinforced by belief systems that associated civilisation and refined culture with things European


·        acceptance of the authority and power of whites and light skinned persons and their natural right to be dominant


·        acceptance of inegalitarian values derived from a strong master-servant social ideology


·        a strong sense of everyone’s entitlement to social justice derived from religious ethics and morality and justification of defiant and rebellious behaviour where social justice is defined.


·        Strong identity with family and community


·        Admiration for the brave few who beat the system of this rigid social order by being clever, cunning and street wise in finding loopholes in and around the system


·        great admiration for education and educators but tempered by the notion that only a few blacks had the brains to assimilate much of it



In this stable paternalist social order goal fulfillment was achieved by repressed aspirations for human development in which limited opportunities for human growth matched the meager opportunities available.


This social order began to crumble and disintegrate in the second and third decade of the twentieth century when the great depression in the inter-war years triggered rebelliousness and defiance by the poor due to perceptions that social injustice had become pervasive and strivings for more power by the new middle class emerging from an increasingly urban society.


A new social order has emerged in the post war period with a new economic and political power structure and new core values.  The new power structure centers around a diversified urban corporate economy controlled partly by the sons of the old merchant class and partly by the newly emergent nouveau riche brown and white urban capitalist social groupings rapidly accumulating capital in this period in finance, service industries, merchandising, construction and hotels.  Power has shifted from plantation owners to a new urban economic elite.  Blacks are striving to join the urban corporate elite from their power base in the professions.


The expansion of the middle class and the new urban owners of wealth has opened up opportunities for upward social mobility weakening the traditional rigid social order.  Educational opportunities expanded to facilitate this upward social mobility and the demand for new skills and new areas of occupational competence.


But aspirations for upward social mobility run far ahead of the opportunities available leading to a massive stream of outward migration by an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 per annum between 1961 and 1991. 


The core values of the new social order have challenged those of the old Jamaica but strong residual influences from the old Jamaica persist and create a climate of competing new and old values and norms.


The new core norms and values are as follows and constitute a contradictory mix of positives and negatives compared to the old social order, norms and core values:


·        Paternalism and deference to superiors have declined as all groups now compete for social space in this more open and competitive social order.

·        Strong strivings for upward social mobility and improved life chances have replaced acceptance by the poor of their poverty

·        Large scale upward social mobility has resulted in blacks constituting a majority of the country’s upper middle professional, technical and managerial class.  But these upwardly mobile blacks have yet to behave with the authority and confidence of the traditional white and light skinned elite or to gain full legitimacy or acceptance of their authority by the more disadvantaged black majority.

·        Black self-esteem has grown and the lower classes have begun to display greater self-acceptance, confidence and aggression in their dealings with the upper and middle classes

·        In sports and entertainment there has been a flowering creative talent reflecting a new sense of self-acceptance, confidence and positive self-images at the base of the society.  Entertainers, artistes, sportsmen and sportswomen come increasingly from lower income households.  And forms of creative expression increasingly reflect local culture, values and styles rather than imitation of foreigners.  This new self-confidence is expressed in the creative outpourings of popular drama, reggae music and new dance forms

·        There is a massive demand foe expanded training and educational opportunities that runs far ahead of the growth of the expanded education system leading to a deep sense of frustration

·        Behaviour styles of deference and docility have been replaced by aggression, assertiveness and competitiveness

·        Rampant individualism has replaced and weakened the strong family bonds and community ties of the past, thereby weakening the traditional mechanisms of social control

·        Exposure to new ideas and modes of behaviour through new exposure to mass communication media and large scale foreign travel have undermined the rigidity conformist behaviour patterns and have created a social climate supportive of a greater diversity in styles and modes of behaviour

·        New notions of egalitarianism have challenged the traditional master-servant ideology and modified relations between the classes and ethnic groups

·        The majority strives after more power and to unburden itself of the legacy of being marginalised and strongly identifies with political parties, leaders and political personalities (Michael Manley and Portia Simpson) supportive of that aspiration.

·        Violence and aggression are increasingly justified as legitimate responses to injustice and social oppression, resulting in increased social violence.

·        Rigid behaviour codes give way to a great diversity of behaviour modes and styles and a tendency towards experimentation and deviant behaviour.  Taken to extremes this syndrome manifests itself in a drift towards lawlessness and indiscipline and a refusal to conform to rigid standards and rules of behaviour.

·        Status respectability based on speech patterns, modes of dress, old school ties from high status high schools, light skin colour and high educational attainment have declined in importance as money has become the dominant currency defining social rank and status

·        New sources of wealth and income have opened up the rigid and closed class and racial structure of the past and created more diverse middle and affluent classes with very pluralistic values, norms, behaviour styles among the lower classes

·        In the past the lower classes invariably tried to imitate the upper classes to get recognition and status.  In this new social order the younger generation among the elite and the middle class are imitating behaviour styles among the lower classes

·        As competing old and new values create a climate of social disequilibrium and weakened authority systems, violence and capacity for violence has emerged as a major mode of articulating power, hence the power, influence and prestige of innercity dons and drug dealers

·        Overall, goal fulfillment at the base of the society has declined as aspirations for a better life have run far ahead of the social and economic opportunities, leading to increased political and social disaffection and a view of the new social order as promoting social injustice and oppression combined with resentment against those who visibly display symbols of success and affluence.  Tensions, contradictions and stress levels have multiplied in the society at all levels creating a favourable climate for drug use and drug abuse

·        This has been compounded by the failure of the economy to grow over the past 20 years and the failure of both government and corporate private sector to expand fast enough to accommodate the employment, income and welfare needs of the majority.  As a result, a huge underground economy based on drugs, contraband imports, buying and selling and self-employed occupations has emerged as the major growth sector of the economy and it thrives on corruption, lawlessness and illegality, creating serious problems for law and order and efforts to regulate behaviour in the society

·        Strong institutions, the enforcement of rules of behaviour, sanctions against rule breakers, strong leadership and the strengthening of authority systems in all domains and social space are required to stabilize the new social order but they are conspicuously absent in most areas of social space from schools, to sports, to politics, to entertainment, to law enforcement and to religion, community affairs and the workplace environment.  Lawlessness and the tendencies towards anarchy, indiscipline and weak control of behaviour plague organizational performance, productivity, resource use and efficiency in virtually all domains of social space.  These contradictions have resulted in a generalised crisis of authority throughout the new Jamaica.

·        Large scale emigration has weakened the traditionally strong family bonds between mothers and children and has undermined the nurturing and parenting associated with family life, leading to the emergence of more aggressive, violent and criminal tendencies throughout the society.

·        The dominance of money as the single most important currency of influence, power and status and the decline of respectability as a status defining factor have promoted increased and rampant corruption both in government and in the private sector corporate world.

·         These profound changes in values, norms and modes of behaviour in all domains of social space have undermined the old authority systems without giving birth to a strong new and legitimate social order.  The old order is still crumbling but new and coherent authority systems have not emerged to replace it.

·        The masses or majority classes feel marginalised by the evident concentration of wealth and economic power in the hands of the dominant elite families and ethnic minorities.

·         The undeveloped new social order is laying to waste most of the enormous talent and creative energies that are abundant at the base of the society among the majority classes because it has failed to expand opportunities for human development and to harness and make use of this talent in the building of a stronger nation and more viable economic base.

·        The new social order increased the flow of information to people and stimulated a heightened and keen interest in public affairs.  This increased the potential to develop greater and deeper channels for democratic participation but there has been a reluctance by the elite and the political powerbrokers to undertake far reaching democratic political reforms to facilitate this.



Conclusion and Questions


And what of the future?  What trends in values, norms and behaviour traits can be expected?  What key factors can expand the positives and contract the negatives?  What new goals and directions for social change must be sought to better develop Jamaica’s enormous human potential?


How far is a more market driven economy, or more democratic political reforms likely to alleviate or aggravate these contradictions?


Can democracy be built on a weak authority system in virtually all domains of social space?  Can market forces develop in a social order whose economic power is dominated by a tiny minority?


What structural changes are required to generate a new and modified social order promoting greater development potential and greater utilisation of the country’s human talent or human capital?


These are all very complex questions for which few countries have found workable, feasible and viable answers.  The challenge facing Jamaica is to develop an agenda of solutions to these contradictions and development roadblocks.


Part of the solutions must be found in emphasising and placing the country’s development priorities on the following:


·        Trying to create a meritocratic society where the most talented find opportunities and outlets for both achievement and self-expression.

·        Expansion of the country’s economic base by opening up opportunities for entrepreneurship at the base of the society

·        Expanding labour quality and human capital through more extensive and diverse educational and training institutions, especially in technology and technical production skills and competences

·        Increasing collaboration and joint ventures between big and small scale capital by combining their diverse strengths in production and marketing

·        Using a strategy of deepening democracy and decentralized public management (especially at the community level) to channel the creative energies of the people in the direction of managing their own affairs

·        Our nurturing institutions and socialisation agents from which people get their values and learn behaviour norms (school, church, community and family as well as the mass media, political parties and interest groups) more begin to tackle the problem of developing more positive values, norms and personality traits and set about positive and energy releasing values, drives, aspirations and behaviour styles consistent with their personal goals for growth and development and the overall development needs of the country

·        The need to develop ongoing programmes of leadership training to strengthen the leadership skills and capabilities required to meet the challenges facing the country and to provide a better understanding of the problems facing the country and the required agenda of solutions so that a core of opinion leaders across the country can be actively supporting and working towards common goals and solutions for addressing Jamaica’s problems.